Viewpoint: How we can stop abortion stigma

BY CARLY MANES

Published October 20, 2013

One in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime. For all of the talk about abortion in U.S. politics, we never seem to talk about the fact that abortion is a common experience among American women. But we don’t just talk about abortion in America — we legislate it, regulate it, define what it is and isn’t, and what it should and should not mean. So, if abortion is so common in the United States, and we are talking about it all of the time, how come no one knows how prevalent it is?

As record numbers of legislation regulating abortion procedures, providers and facilities, conversations about abortion as a political tool overshadow the fact that having an abortion is a common and personal experience, thus decontextualizing abortion from the circumstances that make it necessary.

When you hear about abortion, you often hear about Texas, Ohio, Kansas and the multitude of other state legislatures that are regulating abortion care. Anti-abortion legislation has flooded our federal and state legislatures in record numbers in the past several years. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2011 alone more than 92 anti-abortion laws were passed in 24 states. It often seems as if Congress cares more about outlawing abortion than it does balancing the national budget or creating jobs.

The current conversation about abortion in the United States revolves around Rick Santorum sound bites and fetal-pain theories. The national conversations that politicians are having about abortion are very different from the conversations we are —or too often, aren't — having with our friends, our families and our communities. For the past several years — and ever since the legalization of abortion in 1973, really — abortion hasn’t been about our experiences and the role abortion plays in our everyday lives; it has been about political ideologies and re-election campaigns. So, if you didn’t know that one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime, don’t be surprised. Our national rhetoric around abortion access has nothing to do with the stories of the individuals having abortions and everything to do with politicians who are committed to legislating it.

Now, we're not pointing fingers, and we're not placing blame. This isn't about labels or “taking sides” on the issue of abortion. Abortion and our feelings about abortion don’t fit into two categories, and neither do our experiences. The 1 in 3 Campaign Week of Action revolves around sharing abortion stories and working to change the conversation and culture in the United States around abortion. The policies our representatives are making, as well as the media representation of this highly politicized issue, fail to accurately reflect our experiences.

One in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime.

These are real peoples’ lives. These are women in our community. One in three isn't just a statistic — it's a representation of all the women in your life who have had abortions but have not been given the opportunity to talk about it. Every time an anti-abortion law is brought to the floor, every time a group of anti-abortion activists stands in front of a clinic entrance with signs that shame individuals who have abortions, we are failing one-third of our nation’s women. We are effectively telling women who have had abortions, and women who are going to have abortions — outlawing abortion doesn't stop abortions from happening — that their experience is shameful, and that the choice they made about their pregnancy is wrong. This is the stigma, and when we stigmatize abortion in this way, we are silencing a whole lot of people.

That’s why, starting today, with the 1 in 3 Campaign Week of Action, we are changing the conversation. The 1 in 3 Campaign is about letting individuals who have had abortions tell their stories without the shame and stigma that currently surrounds the abortion conversation. We are reclaiming our voices, and telling our stories so that woman around the nation can tell theirs too. Not only do we hope that the sharing of personal abortion stories finally puts an end to the stigmatization of abortion and women who have abortions, but we hope it mobilizes abortion supporters to advocate for safe, legal and affordable abortion care.

This Thursday at 8 p.m. in the Pendleton Room of the Michigan Union, Students for Choice will be holding its first annual 1 in 3 Abortion Speak Out. The 1 in 3 Abortion Speak Out is an opportunity for individuals in the campus community who have had abortions to share their experience in a safe, empowering and supportive space. Although everyone is welcome and encouraged to join us, only individuals who have had abortions will have the opportunity to speak.

Now that you know one in three women in America will have an abortion in her lifetime, it’s time we stop the shame and stigma.

Carly Manes is a Public Policy junior.