Teaching Reproductive Justice

"Reproductive justice -- women having power over our own bodies -- is the crucial first step toward any democracy, any human rights, and any justice."

That quote by feminist icon Gloria Steinem is on the cover of a new book titled Reproductive Justice: An Introduction, by ACP advisory board member Loretta J. Ross. along with historian Rickie Solinger.

The book itself is a first step in educating new audiences about a movement that was created in 1994 by women of color, including Ross, a cofounder of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective.  Ross will publish two more books about the topic in the near future, including one titled Radical Reproductive Justice. 

At the official launch event in Atlanta this month, Ross said the book is designed for high school and college students and "will contribute to the exciting upsurge of reproductive justice activism and scholarship."

Here is an excerpt from Chapter One: A Reproductive Justice History:

Reproductive justice is a contemporary framework for activism and for thinking about the experience of reproduction. It is also a political movement that splices ‘reproductive rights’ with ‘social justice.’ The definition of reproductive justice goes beyond the pro-choice/pro-life debate and has three primary principles: (1) the right not to have a child; (2) the right to have a child; and (3) the right to parent children in safe and healthy environments. In addition, reproductive justice demands sexual autonomy and gender freedom for every human being.

At the heart of reproductive justice is this claim: all fertile persons and persons who reproduce and become parents require a safe and dignified context for these most fundamental human experiences. Achieving this goal depends on access to specific community-based resources including high-quality healthcare, housing and education, a living wage, a healthy environment, and a safety net for times when these resources fail. Safe and dignified fertility management, childbirth, and parenting are impossible without these resources. 

The case for reproductive justice makes another basic claim: access to these material resources is justified on the ground that safe and dignified fertility management, childbirth, and parenting together constitute a fundamental human right. Human rights, a global idea, are what governments owe to the people they govern and include both negative and positive rights. Negative rights are a government's obligation to refrain from unduly interfering with people’s mental, physical, and spiritual autonomy. Positive rights are a government’s obligation to ensure that people can exercise their freedoms and enjoy the benefits of society. 

Reproductive justice uses a human rights framework to draw attention to — and resist — laws and public and corporate policies based on racial, gender, and class prejudices. These laws and policies deny people the right to control their bodies, interfere with their reproductive decision making, and ultimately, prevent many people from being able to live with dignity in safe and healthy communities. 

The human rights analysis rests on the claim that interference with the safety and dignity of fertile and reproducing persons is a blow against their humanity — that is, against their rights as human beings. 

You can buy this book on Amazon. And did you know? Whenever you shop through smile.amazon.com and select Abortion Conversation Projects, a portion of your purchase is donated to our organization. Learn more about this no-cost way to support our stigma-busting efforts by clicking here: Slay Stigma While You Shop! It's Free!

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Abortion Conversation Projects is building a Stigma-Busting Community. Join us through our website , Facebook, and Twitter @ACPabortion. Please donate to help us change conversations around abortion care. 

Slay Stigma While You Shop. It's Free!

DYK?  You can financially support Abortion Conversation Projects and our stigma-slaying work — at no cost to you.

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The only difference is that you log in through smile.amazon.com. When you do this, 0.5% of your purchase is donated to us through AmazonSmileFoundation.  

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Then every time you shop, enter Amazon through the smile.amazon.com in you web browser or mobile device. Add a bookmark to make shopping and donating even quicker and easier.

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Abortion Conversation Projects is building a Stigma-Busting Community. Join us through our website , Facebook, and Twitter @ACPabortion. Please donate to help us change conversations around abortion care. 

A Call to Validate Each Other and Celebrate Victories

ACP Advisory Board Member Loretta Ross is a major figure in modern black history, a visionary leader who helped create the Reproductive Justice Movement and who continues to champion abortion as a human right that fits into a broader crusade for economic, gender, and racial equality.

This Black History Month, Ross has a profoundly hopeful outlook on the future, despite the challenges of a Republican-controlled federal government and state legislators obsessed with blocking access to abortion care.

“The sky is not falling,” says Ross, who sees current events through the lens of history. “For people who endure oppression, there have always been times like these. What’s important is that we will not go back and we will not back down.”

Instead of giving into fear and negativity, Ross encourages advocates for safe, legal, and nonjudgmental abortion care to “validate and celebrate each other” and focus on the victories. 

To help us all fulfill her mandate, here are four great reasons to rejoice:

1. More people are engaged. Abortion providers reported an unprecedented surge in volunteer applications at their clinics after last month’s Women’s March on Washington, which galvanized millions of people around the globe to pour into the streets to protest threats to reproductive and other rights. 

2. The language is evolving. After decades of lazy reporting on reproductive rights as “pro-choice versus pro-life,” journalists are finally paying attention to the wider framing that declares“Women’s Rights are Human Rights.” In this article about the history of the phrase, Ross explains that she has waited for three decades to finally see it become a clarion call for feminist organizing.

3. Research is building. Studies are being completed that debunk fake science used by anti-choice zealots in court cases and propaganda campaigns. This month, ANSIRH and Innovating Education in Reproductive Health released this series of videos and lectures called Abortion Explained, making their stigma-busting research accessible to the wider public. 

4. Grassroots efforts are proliferating. Creative individuals around the globe continue to design unique projects to end the unjustified shame of abortion and replace it with much-deserved affirmation, respect, and dignity.

At ACP, we have the honor of providing funds and other resources to people who work on the frontline of culture change at the community level. We have received far more applications for funds than we could grant, showing that the desire to end abortion stigma is stronger than ever.

In addition to our current grant partners, many innovative stigma-busters submitted proposals that should give everyone hope for the future. Here is a sampling of those unique projects:

The Sea Change Program has created a board game for young people to play with their friends. It sparks conversations with questions about sex, relationships and reproduction.

Shout Your Abortion envisions a children’s book about abortion that would generate intimate conversations within families and help normalize abortion. 

Working with Women Help Women International, Susan Yanow wants to see a guide about medication abortion that includes a section to educate about language, pointing out terms that stigmatize and offering new words that dignify.

The Youth Association for Development (YAD) in Pakistan is working on a training program and radio messages that will focus on helping men become supporters of abortion.

The SAYWHAT Organization in Zimbabwe has a plan to document abortion stories on video, audio, and text to reach young people and community leaders who have the power to influence opinions.

The Maternal and Child Health Initiative (MACHI) in Uganda envisions targeting one industrial area to set up intimate, one-on-one conversations in its Break The Silence Project.

Abortion Conversation Projects is building a Stigma-Busting Community. Join us through our website , Facebook, and Twitter @ACPabortion. Please donate to help us change conversations around abortion care. 

A Novel Way to Begin This New Year

Despite the new challenges facing the reproductive justice movement, we resolve to stay positive about shifting conversations about abortion care. One way to stay hopeful about a brighter future is to read great literature. The perfect place to start is with the new novel The Mothers about the ways one girl's abortion affects the different members of her African American faith community. Author Brit Bennett presents different perspectives with honor and respect, and without capitulating to stigma or anti-abortion biases. What follows is ACP Board Member Jeannie Ludlow's book review.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett. Riverhead Books, 2016. ISBN: 9780399184512. 288 pp. Available as an ebook. This review originally was published on Jeannie Ludlow's blog

As a literature instructor who studies abortion and stigmatization, I read a lot of fiction and poetry about abortion. I’m happy to report that I have a new favorite: Brit Bennett’s The Mothers. This novel is the best I have read at leaving behind the simplicities of “prochoice vs. anti-abortion” and telling a complex, honest, and anti-stigmatizing abortion story.

What are our most difficult conversations about abortion, the ones that we wish we could avoid? Race, religion, the fetus, men’s experiences, money—this novel focuses a shimmering and compassionate light on all of these as it traces the reverberations from one high school girl’s abortion into the faith community of her African American church in southern California.

The novel is told in the plural voice of “the Mothers,” the women elders in the church, who bring their collective wisdom, compassion, and judgment to the story. The novel opens, “We didn’t believe when we first heard because you know how church folk can gossip. Like the time we all thought First John, our head usher, was messing around on his wife . . .” In these two sentences, Bennett establishes the Mothers’ tone, simultaneously understanding and disapproving, familiar, and just a little unreliable, always giving themselves an out in case they are mistaken. After all, they are the “church folk” whose gossip drives the story.

When seventeen-year-old Nadia gets pregnant a few months after her mother has killed herself, the community should not be surprised. After all, as the Mothers tell us, Nadia “had earned a wild reputation—she was young and scared and trying to hide her scared in prettiness.” Nadia’s father, absorbed by his own grief, cannot see her struggles. Nadia arranges for and has an abortion without his knowledge.

One of the things about abortion that Bennett gets so beautifully right is how hard it is for people to talk about. Nadia and Luke, her boyfriend, talk past one another, neither one ever saying what they really want. When they do get adults involved, the adults can only say the easy, stereotypical things about consequences and responsibility that, we know, cover over deep-rooted fear, disappointment, and guilt.

The scene in the abortion clinic is respectful, and spot-on accurate. There’s the angry mom who chastises her daughter in the waiting room: “‘Cut all that out,’ she said. ‘You wanted to be grown? Well, now you grown.’” There’s Nadia’s clothing: “she felt the nurse give her a once-over, eyes drifting past her red blouse, skinny jeans, black pumps. ‘Should’ve worn something more comfortable,’ the nurse said. . . . ‘Someone should’ve told you that when you called.’ ‘They did,’” Nadia replies. After her abortion, Nadia lies to her dad about her cramps and then sneaks out to a party that she really should not attend.

Jeannie Ludlow

Jeannie Ludlow

Bennett has successfully written a nuanced abortion story in which everyone gets it a little bit wrong and a little bit right, even the Crisis Pregnancy Center counselor who befriends Nadia’s boyfriend years later. The author makes it possible for us to sympathize with Luke and Nadia and their parents, even as we shake our heads (with the Mothers) over their failings. These characters are human, real, neither ideal nor flawed. When Nadia’s abortion story comes to light several years later, its aftermath reveals both the fragilities and the strengths of the church and its people.

The Mothers presents many different perspectives on abortion with respect and care, while refusing to participate in abortion stigmatization. It has been named a “best book of 2016” by NPR, Elle, Vogue, Goodreads, and Entertainment Weekly, all well-deserved honors. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Abortion Conversation Projects is building a Stigma-Busting Community. Join us through our websiteFacebook, and Twitter @ACPabortion. Please donate to help us change conversations around abortion care. 


Stigma Busting From the Ground Up: Abortion Conversation Projects Awards Five Grants

Abortion Conversation Projects’ (ACP) Grant Program supports grassroots activism that challenges abortion stigma on individual and community levels with Seed Grants and by partnering with projects. ACP announced five grants totaling $5,000 in its Fall 2016 cycle of Seed Support grants. “Out of a field of 21 we chose the five where we felt ACP could engage and make a difference,” noted Terry Sallas Merritt, President of ACP.

Women seeking abortions in Tennessee may find it difficult to find support for their choice, and the Knoxville Abortion Doula Collective is poised to change that. Their Seed Support grant will fund a hotline and website that will offer information, support, and direct contact with their volunteer abortion doulas. (Doulas are lay volunteers who offer support and information to those going through a reproductive experience.)

The Abortion Broadcast: The Podcast from the Other End of the Speculum, a project by Jacquelyn Day will amplify the voices of abortion care workers who are rarely heard. “Providers are committed and passionate about their work, and are perhaps the most stigmatized of all, so this grant speaks to us,” commented Merritt.

The Fort Worth, Texas Whole Woman’s Health Clinic received partial funding to create a mural that will serve as a bulwark against virulent anti abortion protests and a beacon for patients who seek abortion care. The Shift Stigma Mural Project replicates a previous ACP funded project in McAllen Texas, which was also a target of extreme harassment.  That mural engaged the community, visually represented its diversity, and reinforced that quality, dignified abortion care is available. Whole Woman’s Health was the winning plaintiff in a recent Supreme Court case that struck down burdensome restrictions in Texas.

ACP is also contributing to the funding of two international projects. Safer Sex is a Blessing is a traveling conversation for communities of faith in Honduras. “Abortion is not legal in Honduras, and yet The Ecumenical Leaders for Choice (Las Ecumenicas Por El Derecho a Decidir) are sparking a conversation about abortion and human rights within the context of gender equality and reproductive and sexual health,” said Merritt. The End Abortion Stigma Initiative in South Africa will celebrate 20 years of legal abortion by inviting artists and performers to engage with audiences about the considerable institutional stigma around abortion that exists in that country.

ACP’s mission is “to challenge the polarization that characterizes abortion conversation, lessen the stigmatization of abortion, and promote speaking and listening with empathy, dignity, and resilience about even the most difficult aspects of abortion.” In addition to funding, ACP supports Grant Partners in outreach, fund-raising, evaluation and sustainability.

The Abortion Conversation Project was founded in 2000 and spent its early years promoting post abortion emotional health, de-stigmatizing abortion through educational handouts for parents, partners, and patients, and sponsoring deeper conversations among diverse prochoice audiences. After helping to launch the Abortion Care Network, ACP explored conflict transformation techniques and decided to offer small “seed” grants to engage many more people in its mission. The group recently transitioned from a private foundation to a public 501 c 3 charity, Abortion Conversation Projects, Inc. which enables the organization to fundraise for projects. 

Abortion Conversation Projects is building a Stigma-Busting Community. Join us through our website www.abortionconversationprojects.org , Facebook page and Twitter feed @ACPabortion. 

Supporters can donate through the website and also receive the ACP e-newsletter by clicking on the website links.


Why I Give


‘Tis the end of the year and the fund-raising letters and emails are filling up the mailbox. This year there is a special urgency to them with the doom of the presidential elections hanging over us all. Giving is a proxy for doing and caring, which doesn’t always seem sufficient, but given our busy lives and many priorities, definitely a good thing. I believe money is a form of energy, and if I can’t personally do everything, my energy can help someone else do more.

My favorite donation is to the Abortion Conversation Projects. It’s all right there in the name. Abortion—is there another issue that intersects so many aspects of our lives or is so targeted by the right wing, or is such a personal matter that should never be questioned by crazy people picketing or by politicians? There might be, but when you have been immersed in the work of abortion care as I have, it is such fertile ground for contemplation of all the big things in life. 

Conversation--- everyone talks about the need for a conversation but we are all so polarized that a real exchange of feelings, ideas, and options is practically impossible. To cultivate real conversations you need good intentions, a lot of support, and courage. Conversation about hot topics like abortion needs a good measure of all of these.

Projects—We have recently added an “s” to Project in our name, to reflect the reality of our work. Every year we give out seed money to 5- 10 small grassroots groups to create opportunities for people to talk compassionately about this complex topic of abortion. Just a little money gets people working amazing projects, making connections that support spaces to have conversations. The result is people finding a voice, finding comfort in the presence of others who understand, and working to reduce the stigma of abortion.

Supporting Abortion Conversation Projects is where I can see hearts opening up, connections being made, and communities growing. And that’s a gift, as they say, that keeps on giving.

--Peg Johnston 

Please join us in this important work to uplift the dignity of people who seek abortion care and the people who provide it. Click here to become part of our community of stigma fighters. Like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @ACPAbortion.

Your voice matters. 

No Debate About It: Adoption & Abortion Both Confront Stigma

As so often happens in abstract discussions about abortion, people opposed to the choice typically assert with breezy certainty that adoption is the simple and morally superior alternative. 

So it was no surprise to hear this refrain in the recent Vice Presidential debate as the two candidates held forth about abortion. 

“Let’s welcome children into our world,” said Republican candidate and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. “We could improve adoption so that families that can't have children can adopt more readily those children from crisis pregnancies.”

Aside from skipping over the risks and complexities of pregnancy and childbirth, as well as the repercussions for a woman’s future,  this familiar assertion also sidesteps the fact that adoption, like abortion, is burdened with stigma.

Abortion Conversation Projects strive to improve the way people think and talk about abortion and all reproductive experiences in their communities, where true social change begins. That’s why ACP provided funding and resources for one of the first-ever guided exchange session for abortion providers and adoption workers.

The session was titled Towards Understanding: Minnesota’s Reproductive Justice Advocates and the Adoption Community Partnering to Reduce Stigma, and it was a joint project of Family Tree Clinic and Bellis adoption services in Minnesota.

“Our goal was to build community among these professionals,” says Alissa Light, Executive Director of the Family Tree Clinic. “Also, we wanted to build professional skills for providing all-options counseling and to impact misinformation held about both abortion and adoption.”

Before the session, Light says she worried participants would be reluctant to engage. “We had concerns that people working in adoption would not be receptive to abortion information. Some are founded with an anti-choice mission and have explicit policies that prevent discussing abortion.” Likewise, she said, she feared abortion workers would have reservations about talking with adoption communities. “Ultimately, all of our fears were unnecessary,” says Light.

The most successful parts of the day involved values-clarification exercises and sharing stories of birthparents, adult adoptees, adoptive parents, and abortion care providers and those they serve. 

“We know that hearing directly from women and families is a powerful way to lessen stigma and promote empathy and compassion,” says Light.

The 50 participants left their day together more confident in recognizing stigma and setting aside their own biases to make all-options community referrals in an atmosphere of respect and trust.

Like abortion, the stigma around adoption historically has been mired in silence, misunderstanding, and stubborn narratives.

Joni Ogle, a client advocate with Choice Network adoption services in Worthington, Ohio, says the most fundamental misunderstanding traps abortion and adoption in an adversarial duel. “People feel you have to be pro-life, meaning pro-adoption, or you have to be pro-choice, meaning pro-abortion,” says Ogle. “This is not true at all.”

Also, though adoption is framed as preferable to abortion, birth parents can experience far more overt shaming and social pressure than people who end their pregnancies, Ogle says. 

The stigma around adoption begins with the choice, continues throughout the pregnancy, shows up in the hospital during delivery, and can even persist long after the process is history. 

Adoption, similar to abortion, can involve state-mandated ‘counseling’ before pregnant people are permitted to choose adoption, says Ogle. Then, birth parents endure months of increasing stigma as their pregnancy becomes visible. When birth parents are in public, people approach them to ask about everything from the baby’s gender to the identity of the partner. “I have had many cases where women complained that an overbearing neighbor or coworker would pursue them to adopt their baby,” says Ogle.

What’s more, unlike those who choose active parenting or abortion, birth parents face stigma in the medical setting around their deliveries. Hospitals can require social workers to meet with birth parents about their choices, and medical staff might voice unsolicited opinions. 

A birth parent who worked with Choice Network says she experienced heavy shaming in the hospital. The doctor pressured her about birth control, she says, and “the nurses were making things out to be like adoption was probably going to be the worst decision of my life.”

Adding to the stigma are cultural messages in entertainment and mass media that portray adoption as a precursor to grief, depression, and family dysfunction.

Finally, even as the adoption process has evolved to allow a wide range of ways for birth parents and the children to stay in contact — from simply exchanging letters once a year, to having monthly visits —  many people denounce the openness and fear birth parents will want to reclaim the child. 

To combat adoption stigma, Choice Network uses a “strengths-based” approach. “We let clients lead the conversations and we follow their norms,” says Ogle. “We try to instill in them that no topic is unacceptable to discuss.”

The agency also educates about the many options within the adoption process, which include private and public foster care, kinship placements with a friend or relative, and guardianships.

Other organizations are joining the effort to create trust and respect around all pregnancy options, including Backline — a call-in center for people seeking in for pregnancy support — that launched All Options Pregnancy Resource Center in Indiana just last year. The center offers nonjudgmental emotional support as well as resources for unplanned pregnancy, miscarriage, infertility, abortion, adoption, and parenting. 

And the ACP-funded Minnesota Project has sparked new collaborations. “We have already started to observe the ripple effect of our work,” says Light of Family Tree Clinic, seeing cross-referrals increasing between abortion care and adoption sites.  

Project leader, Kyle Meerkins reports, "We have definitely experienced an increased sense of urgency around the creation of stronger referral networks and spaces to provide all-options counseling outside of the abortion clinic and adoption agency settings,” especially with the prevalence of crisis pregnancy centers, he explains. 

As a result , Family Tree is implementing a free pregnancy testing and all-options counseling program and will serve as a referral specialist and connection organization for folks who are not able to directly refer to abortion services because of agency restrictions.

Finally, the birth parent from Choice Network sums up the ultimate all-options stigma-eradication approach: “People should just be supportive of whatever the woman chooses for her life,” she says. 

That’s the same sentiment that concluded the abortion discussion in the Vice Presidential debate. After Republican candidate, Gov. Pence said pregnant people in crisis should choose adoption, Democratic candidate and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia replied:

“Governor, why don't you trust women to make this choice for themselves?”

Please join us in this important work to uplift the dignity of people who seek abortion care and the people who provide them. Click here to become part of our community of stigma fighters. Like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @ACPAbortion.

Your voice matters. 

Community Conversations With A Global Reach

The theme of this year’s September 28 Global Day of Action — Step Into Our Shoes — is right in stride with our mission and passion here at the Abortion Conversation Project. 

This Annual Global Campaign is dedicating its 2016 event to challenging abortion stigma and the gender stereotypes that factor into the silence and shame around abortion care. 

“Let’s spur conversations, counter gender stereotypes and shift the narrative surrounding abortion,” says the event’s website.  The campaign, part of the Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR), calls on people around the world to share their stories of having an abortion or of supporting others who have had ended pregnancies. 

Here at ACP, we have focused on those same goals for the past 16 years, pioneering grassroots efforts to spark new and different conversations around abortion at the community level where lasting social change takes root. 

Most of our Grant Partners are based in the United States, but in honor of the September 28 Campaign and its global reach, we are shining a spotlight on our stigma-busting partner in Mexico — The MARIA Fund, which since 2009 has helped more than 5,500 women access and afford safe and legal abortion care in Mexico.  

Earlier this year, ACP provided funds, resources, and support to help The MARIA Fund put on a dialog-rich event that was highly unique because of its surprising venue and its distinctive audience.

yo aborto.jpg

The event was held at a museum, where people typically go to admire paintings or study relics, not to talk about abortion. Holding the video premiere at a museum in the heart of urban Mexico City helped draw the attendees out of their own communities to experience a different socioeconomic atmosphere. 

Meanwhile, the unusual audience was a diverse group of about 100 human rights workers, rather than the typical gathering of reproductive health advocates and feminist allies. Having human rights defenders as the main audience was a strategy to foster greater cooperation and new discussions among various social justice groups. 

The centerpiece of the event was the premier of a video series featuring Mexican celebrities reading testimonials of women who had obtained abortions with financial help from the MARIA Fund. The films were designed to show the general public that shame around abortion is unwarranted. 

The video launch was part of a strategic communications effort called “Yo Aborto, Yo Acompaño, Yo Transformo,” which translates to I Abort, I Support, I Transform. This video from the campaign includes English subtitles

“Our objective was for abortion to be understood as a human life experience, for stereotypes about abortion and women who have abortions to be broken, and for the right to abortion to be included in the human rights agenda,” said Oriana López Uribe, who led the project.

The videos, each lasting about five minutes, include gentle music as well as quotes presented in hand-written text as the popular celebrities read from paper in their hands. “Having people who are well-known read the stories allowed us to create a sense of familiarity for those who are not well-versed with the issue,” said Ms. López Uribe. 

Now, The MARIA Fund has launched a new campaign designed to spread its message to the United States. Earlier this month, it began promoting this new effort, called “Invest in Abortion, Invest in Justice.”

This kind of outreach, which began by connecting individuals and small groups within a community in one city, helps to build a worldwide network of people who are altering the way we talk about abortion. 

As we mark the coming September 28 Global Day of Action, we reaffirm our pledge to promote new and different conversations to eliminate stigma and ensure that girls and women have the human right to safe abortion care. 

Please join us in this important work to uplift the dignity of people who seek abortion care and the people who provide them. Click here to become part of our community of stigma fighters. Like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @ACPAbortion.

Your voice matters. 










Widening the Circle of Conversation

In this time of extreme political division, with its unprecedented bluster and bombast, conversations at every level of society are in dire need of dignity.

However, super-charged rhetoric is nothing new in the realm of abortion. Here at ACP, we have years of experience working to temper toxic talk by fostering conversations that are calm, inclusive, respectful, and that often use unexpected, innovative approaches.

A recent project that has sparked many respectful conversations is Holding Our Space, the brainchild of ACP Grant Partner, Jacqui Morton, who creates safe environments where people feel free to share openly about reproductive loss.

ACP provided funding, resources, and support to Holding Our Space because Morton proposed innovative methods to promote respectful conversations and to expand the topic of abortion beyond predictable bounds.

“I wanted to create safe spaces for folks to speak about the whole of their experiences — infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion, adoption, even birth,” says Morton. “The goal is to help people find healing and community, and to decrease stigma around all of it.” 

Morton specifically strives to acknowledge and honor that there is no one ‘right’ way to feel after abortion, and that feelings of grief, relief or both are deserving of honor and respect.

Holding Our Space began as a digital community —  a Tumblr page —  where people are invited to share about their experiences by posting anything they choose, including stories, photos, quotes, and moments. Contributors have the option of revealing their identity or remaining anonymous.  Holding Our Space also has a Facebook page.

Then this summer, Holding Our Space became an actual place — a temporary sanctuary in a suburb of Boston, putting into action ACP’s unique stigma-challenging strategy of generating personal conversations at the community level. 

“We invited people inside to be together, participate in a ritual, nourish themselves, share their stories, and honor their experiences,” says Morton, adding that the three-day event was about “changing the conversation on a very local level.”

While you are here, breathe out that which you’d like to leave behind. Breathe in what you hope to keep with you. You are loved. You are not alone.  ~From the Holding Our Space Welcome Letter

Visitors to the sanctuary were able to approach an altar and light a candle, paint meaningful words on rocks to leave or take home, and post messages and feelings on a wall adorned with purple flower petals. They also could sit on a couch in a cozy corner to talk with others. There was even a Yoga session. 

From the moment she began organizing the Holding Our Space event, Morton’s own conversations with others in her community changed. 

“I was more open about my own experience with people I encounter in my community,” she explains. “For example, I shared my abortion experience at a children’s birthday party with another woman, who told me that she had recently had a miscarriage.”

Morton plans to continue seeking ways to expose more people to her welcoming and healing environment so that conversations about abortion and other reproductive loss will dignify and honor people, rather than shame and silence them.

Her long-term vision includes arranging more events in community centers in other areas across the country. In the meantime, in her own community, she is encouraging others to create similar events in their own safe spaces. 

“I plan to hold an ongoing drop-in group, recruiting different facilitators to create a peer- led group that offers space for all reproductive loss,” Morton says. “I’m always thinking about how this can become a sustainable and on-going project.”

Holding Our Space is part of ACP’s mission to widen the circle of conversation around abortion, bringing new voices to the table.

We know culture change begins and thrives at the community level. This is what we at ACP work toward – collaborating with others to help create and support as many grassroots conversations as we can in the many communities that reach out for support.

Join our stigma-busting community and help us bring about culture change around abortion. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

THEY Say, I Say...WHO Says? What We Need are Dialogues, Not More Debates, about Abortion

Jeannie Ludlow, Ph.D.  Associate Prof., English & Coordinator, Women's Studies & Women's Resource Center, Eastern Illinois Univ.; Board Member, Abortion Conversation Project

 As we move toward the election in the fall, we will certainly see more debates between candidates. This got me thinking about debating—what it can and cannot accomplish and, more to the point, whether we should be doing it at all. Here is a re-visited blog of mine from 2013....

When I picture a debate, I see people standing next to each other, looking in the same direction (toward winning), talking against one another. When I picture a dialogue, I see people looking at one another, talking and listening to each other.

Very often, in the U.S., we characterize conversations about abortion as “the abortion debate” (or, worse, “the abortion war”). What we mean by that, of course, is that there is a prochoice side that emphasizes the individual rights of pregnant people and a prolife side that emphasizes the personhood or potential personhood of developing fetuses. Every person or opinion is mapped onto one side or the other. And this shows exactly what is wrong with “debate” as a way to think about abortion.

First of all, debate imposes a binary (two-sided) structure onto a complex issue and assumes a single best answer. A typical abortion debate is prochoice vs. prolife, and a “good” debate provides a civil discussion between two opposing sides. The assumption is that one side will win the debate. But how many people really think in such simple terms?

More to the point, how many people live in such categories? This brings me to my second criticism of abortion debate: debate moves us out of the realm of life and into the realm of abstract ideas like rights and personhood.

In my work as an abortion clinic patient advocate, I learned from patients that abortion is almost never a yes-or-no (or rights-or-personhood) proposition. For the patients who sought our care, abortion was not a question of “is this fetus a person or not?” And only when politicians imposed limitations did patients focus on “do I have the right to have an abortion or not?” Most people’s abortion experiences are best charted along a path with many detours and cul-de-sacs. Abortion is a complex part of people’s complex lives.

I believe what we need are dialogues, not more debates, about abortion. Dialogues are about sharing—our ideas, our experiences, our principles. Difficult dialogues require us to communicate with people whose ideas, experiences, and principles are very different from our own, in order to move toward a more authentic, compassionate understanding of the issue at hand. According to literary scholar Darcy Brandel, in her essay “Performing Invisibility,” difficult dialogues do not seek common ground, nor do they resolve easily into satisfactory answers. The whole purpose of difficult dialogues is not to make them more simple but to honor and embrace their difficulty.

Obviously, difficult dialogues are not simple and never predictable. They can be very uncomfortable. Brandel says they are irresolvable—if we are going to engage in difficult dialogues about abortion, we must let go of the notion that we can figure out abortion, can come to some kind of knowledge or answer about it. We must be willing to stand in the middle of the messiness that is people’s real lives, to join one another in those life experiences that don’t always make sense.

One of the most important differences between debate and difficult dialogue is how we listen. In a debate, I listen in order to prove my opponent wrong. In difficult dialogues, I listen in order to learn, to complicate my understanding and challenge myself, to hear others’ perspectives, even when I do not agree with them—in short, I listen in order to have a more authentic understanding of humanity. When I picture a debate, I see people standing next to each other, looking in the same direction (toward winning), talking against one another. When I picture a dialogue, I see people looking at one another, talking and listening to each other.

What would a difficult dialogue about abortion look like? How can we find the courage to engage in difficult dialogues? More importantly, why would we even bother?

Picture an abortion debate, with two experts on stage, speaking civilly about the limits of the right to abortion and the limits of an unborn child’s personhood.

Now, imagine a woman joining them on the stage, looking at them both and saying, “I had an abortion so I could keep my job and be financially able to support my two children.” Suddenly, a woman’s life is real, her abortion is real, and the discussion could be real.

Now, that’s a “debate” I would like to hear.

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The Clinic Vest Project: Their Vest is Their Voice

Dawn is breaking on a Saturday before Easter, and about 60 anti-abortion protesters begin massing in front of the EMW Women's Surgical Center in downtown Louisville, KY.

With a portable loudspeaker in one hand and a microphone at his lips, one protester launches what ultimately becomes a two-hour sermon of shame aimed at clients seeking legal reproductive healthcare.

But clinic escorts are ready. About 40 of them form a line on the sidewalk in front of the building, and they, too, are loud and clear — yet they never have to utter a single word.

What they are wearing does all the talking.

They sport neon vests the color of traffic cones. The escorts create a human chain so bright that from a distance it looks as if a giant has drawn a huge orange slash on the city block with a colossal Sharpie.

“The vest is a powerful thing,” says Benita Ulisano, a clinic escort in Chicago and board member of The Clinic Vest Project. “It communicates a sense of peaceful authority to anti-choice protestors, and a sense of protection for our patients and their companions.”

Since 2013, the non-profit has provided 1,800 vests — free of charge — to clinic escort groups in 26 states and in Canada. The project received a grant from Abortion Conversation Project to help distribute more vests.

In Louisville, EMW staff members “value and appreciate the escorts immensely,” says the clinic director. “When we warn patients about the protestors outside and their anti-abortion clinic next to us, it is so great when we can tell them to ‘look for the people in the orange vests and they will keep you company and bring you to the right door.’ ” 

“We frequently have patients sigh with relief when they see the vest,” says Louisville escort Pat Canon.

The vests also make a statement to the general public as motorists drive past clinics. “The escort vest is an obvious sign we stand for pro-access,” Canon says. “It clearly shows we are there to support patients going into the clinic in a non-judgmental way.”

Escorts let the vest speak for them on the sidewalk, keeping personal conversation among themselves to a minimum and never engaging with protesters.

Clinic escorts at EMW in Louisville, KY

Clinic escorts at EMW in Louisville, KY

But away from the clinic, the escorts play a vital role in starting conversations that challenge abortion stigma. The Louisville escorts routinely get together after volunteering, and some will share about their own abortions and the stigma they have faced.

“They always say they are grateful for the non-judgmental space to freely talk about their experiences,” Canon says. “Some people say they haven’t had that freedom to talk about their abortions for as long as 20 years.”

Also, when Canon is away from the clinic and out socializing, she often mentions her volunteer work and is amazed by what happens next.  “One by one, people will pull me aside and privately tell me their abortion stories,” she says. “ They are so relieved to be able to tell someone they know will not judge them.”

Clinic vests are so effective at communicating assurance that some anti-abortion protesters have begun wearing them to try to deceive patients into walking with them. But once they open their mouths, their fraud is exposed.

The Clinic Vest Project, which serves 55 escort groups at 85 clinics, provides vests in turquoise, orange, and pink with wording such as “Pro-Choice Clinic Escort”  or “Clinic Escort Volunteer.” Vests also are available with Spanish text.

But no matter the color or language, clinic vests blare one unmistakable message: This is a person you can trust.

Ulisano remembers the time a man brought his daughter to the clinic and initially waved her away. “But then he asked who we were and asked about our vests,” she recalls.

After she explained, the man was grateful for her help. “He said, ‘I trust you. Please walk my daughter in,’ ” Ulisano recalls. “He told his daughter to stay close to ‘the lady in pink.’ That meant the world to me.”

~By Karen Harris Thurston

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