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 , 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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Unapologetic & Unafraid: Conversations That Raise Abortion Funds

By Karen Harris Thurston, ACP Board Member

Abortion is highly stigmatized in the Deep South, so just bringing up the topic for general discussion can be tricky. Raising funds for abortion care can be even more challenging.

Few people understand the art of these conversations better than Oriaku Njoku, co-founder and executive director of Access Reproductive Care - Southeast. Her Atlanta-based reproductive justice organization helps people in Southern states overcome economic, racial, and gender barriers to reproductive healthcare.

ARC’s mission is many layered and involves building community alliances, advocating for social justice, and promoting equality for everyone regardless of zip code and income level. The non-profit also provides financial assistance to people who cannot pay for reproductive services, and it depends on donations to do so.

Njoku, who also works as a patient advocate at an abortion clinic, admits that asking people to open their wallets for abortion care can sometimes be difficult.

 “Living and loving in the Bible Belt has taught me to proceed with caution,” says Njoku, “but there is a difference between being cautious and being afraid to unapologetically stand for what I believe in.”

Njoku has developed successful strategies for carrying on the complex conversations that seek donations for abortion care:

1. Keep the main focus on relations, not donations.

“I think the end goal is building a positive relationship with someone and getting them to join the movement, as opposed to being involved in a moment,” she says. “For us to sustain in the long-haul, we need people who are invested in making reproductive justice a reality through their financial contributions, their volunteer work, and their engagement in organizations.”

2. Know your audience.

Tailoring conversations to match different personalities and settings is the key to meaningful dialogue, Njoku says.

With strangers, such as an Uber driver, she often begins by being genuinely curious about them.  She asks questions about their work and interests, and she listens intently. She looks for a connection with her own life, and shares about her work.  “When I tell them what I do, I mention why I believe it’s important to raise money for abortions,” she says.

With friends or family members, she has more time and opportunity to talk at greater length about the problems of stigma and shame around abortion, conversations that build empathy and compassion for those who need assistance.

3. Make it personal.

Whether talking to strangers, acquaintances or close friends, Njoku says to avoid a scripted conversation. Instead, be candid about why you are passionate about helping others gain access to abortion care.

For Njoku, that means talking about her experiences working with patients in an abortion clinic, where she witnesses the hardships faced by people of color, people who live in poverty, people struggling to survive on the margins of society. Then she explains how seeing these situations of extreme discrimination and inequity compelled her to start ARC-Southeast.

4. Take time to educate.

Many people are unaware of the complex obstacles individuals and families face when trying to to access reproductive healthcare. Njoku clarifies the terminology and goals of the movement, distinguishing between the traditional pro-choice narratives and the intersectional inclusiveness of reproductive justice.

“Folks who aren’t involved with pro-choice feminist movements may be put off by pro-choice language because the decisions people must make go beyond choice,” she says. “It’s important to make connections with how reproductive justice is economic justice, racial justice, and gender justice.”

5. Be persistent but not relentless.

Njoku suggests giving people a chance to think about the information you have shared with them. If they are initially noncommittal, approach them two more times to ask for a donation, but then stop.

6. Beware of the don’ts.

Don’t get upset when people say no. Don’t shame people into giving a donation. And don’t appear reluctant or reticent when seeking support for abortion care.

Says Njoku, “Believe in your cause! Truly believe in the most unapologetic way.”


The Abortion Conversation thanks Oriaku Njoku and her staff at Access Reproductive Care - Southeast for their efforts to end abortion stigma.

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Caution: Personal Abortion Stories in the Marketplace

    ACP is honored to welcome our new Board Member, Karen Thurston and her personal insights about media treatment of the growing trend of people bravely sharing their abortion experiences on-line.      Be warned, she advises if, among other conditions, editors are  “Asking readers to send in a particular kind of abortion narrative to fit a specific frame.”     


ACP is honored to welcome our new Board Member, Karen Thurston and her personal insights about media treatment of the growing trend of people bravely sharing their abortion experiences on-line.  

Be warned, she advises if, among other conditions, editors are “Asking readers to send in a particular kind of abortion narrative to fit a specific frame.”


ACP believes cultural change happens in connection.  Sharing your own abortion experience story can be healing for those who find their voice and for those who hear you and grow stronger.

For decades, stories in the media about abortion have been told by everyone from preachers to politicians, but rarely by those who have actually experienced abortion.

Since 2014, that skewed dynamic has changed. More people are breaking their silence, challenging the stigma, and sharing the complex situations around ending their pregnancies. They are opening up in highly public venues, from Facebook and Twitter, to digital magazines and traditional newspapers.

Ideally, every personal abortion story would be handled with respect in the media, encouraging more people to talk about this common medical procedure. But in reality, some venues will exploit abortion stories to sell subscriptions, advertisements, and political points of view. Story tellers and readers alike should approach every media venue with healthy wariness.

Consider TheAtlantic.comwhich since early January has been inviting readers to send in their intimate experiences of abortion.

Personal Stories of Abortion Made Public is part of the digital magazine’s ‘reader engagement’ effort — a business strategy to attract consumers and advertisers in an intensely competitive field crowded with social media platforms, blog sites and news apps.

The editors post prompts pegged to various news events in the Notes section, and readers are encouraged to write in with their opinions and experiences.

 What happens next is hidden from our view. People we know nothing about make undocumented changes to the text, create headlines, and add introductions, all in a bid to attract and keep reader attention.

Here are key questions to ask when reading The Atlantic series, as well as other first-person abortion narratives published in the popular and profit-driven media:

Do the headlines and other editor-created text contain stigmatizing language?  Several of The Atlantic’s abortion narratives are topped with emotionally charged headlines: Blood Was Pouring Down My Face and Down My Throat, screams one. I Got Down to the Basement and Blood Was Everywhere, blares another. Roe v. Wade ‘Unleashed a Beast,’ warns another.

Introductions to the stories prime readers with subjective appraisals of what’s in store. The editors size up the stories for us, characterizing them as gruesome, tragic, heartbreaking, and harrowing. We are told this author isanguished and that author struggles.

At one point, an editor adds her own commentary after a story, introducing the term infanticide and elaborating that the topic is “particularly charged, not least because of the common-sense ‘disgust’ factor.”  She includes a handy link to a dense, 29-page academic paper titled, Infanticide.

Do the editors hold personal biases about abortion?  The two editors whose names appear with The Atlantic’s reader-generated content, Chris Bodenner and Emma Green, do not state their individual views on abortion. This lack of transparency leaves readers to wonder about their editing decisions.

Some indications of editor bias include:

  • Asking readers to send in a particular kind of abortion narrative to fit a specific frame.  Green, the publication’s managing editor who also writes about religion and culture, did just that after one reader’s abortion entry. Green asks the audience to send in more stories, “particularly ones that show some of the moral ambiguity in these choices.”
  • Offering a negative assessment of the words others use when they talk about their abortions.  That’s what Green did when she launched the abortion story-telling section with a ‘note’ titled The Power of Making Abortion Personal. Her prompt, which focuses on the 113 attorneys who filed briefs about their abortions in the Supreme Court case Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, spotlights what she terms the “cognitive dissonance” in the language of the briefs:

“My child” is a way of talking about a person, an entity that can think and has a moral identity. But that’s the opposite of the argument that this brief is making—it’s not a moral issue, these women are saying. It’s a health issue, and a lifestyle issue, and a career issue. The vocabulary seems to fall short of that.

  •  Including stories that are not told by people who have experienced abortion.  The Atlantic editors included a lengthy entry by a man whose narrative is about rejecting abortion, headlinedFathers Have Virtually ZERO Rights.
  •  Expressing a viewpoint about abortion in other published pieces.  For example, last summer, Green wrote this piece headlined,Why are Fewer American Women Getting Abortions? It’s not, she concludes, because women have better access to affordable birth control. It’s because “fewer women feel comfortable getting an abortion.”  

Millennials, she declares, are deeply conflicted about abortion for moral reasons, as their views are shaped by religious faith. And Americans in general, she asserts, “are moving away from embracing abortion, not toward it.”

Also, Green recently wrote this story about a book spotlighting progressives in the anti-abortion movement, and her analysis was featured in this enthusiasticpiece at The American Conservative.

How heavy a hand do the editors have in altering the reader-generated stories?  We cannot ask The Atlantic’s reader-authors if or how much their words were changed or rearranged, because their identities are kept anonymous.  We can only consider the high quality of the writing and wonder: Do the editors take liberties to accentuate certain scenarios and heighten emotional impact? Do they embellish, omit, or rearrange any details to shape the stories for maximum attraction?

Also, as gatekeepers, do they exclude any stories that don’t fit a preferred frame?

These are mysteries embedded between the lines of the abortion series in The Atlantic’s Notes section, as well as in other media venues publishing abortion stories.

If you want to share your abortion story with the public, spend time researching the site to help ensure your story will be presented with the respect and dignity it deserves. Also, consider sharing through the many grassroots venues listed on our website.


Karen Thurston is an elementary school teacher’s assistant in Georgia. She has shared her abortion experiences in several public venues, including,,,, and The Abortion Diary Podcast.