Analysis Abortion

Reducing Abortion Stigma: Problems and Strategies

Steph Herold

What a new study suggests about reducing abortion stigma.

Yesterday at Ms. Magazine online, Jessica Mack suggested that activists in the abortion rights movement use a tactic from the global HIV/AIDS movement: asking celebrities to sign on as our spokespeople. That, she said, is one key to reducing the seemingly insurmountable stigma associated with abortion. But what celebrity will support abortion rights when there’s so much stigma associated with the procedure?

Coincidentally, just that morning a friend forwarded me a fascinating research paper that begins to tackle similar questions. Abortion Stigma: A Reconceptualization of Constituents, Causes, and Consequences, by Dr. Alison Norris (et al), explores the various entangled elements that produce this stigma and also breaks down how it impacts different groups of people. Thankfully, the authors also make recommendations for how to begin to destigmatize abortion.

Before tackling possible solutions to abortion stigma, let’s define the problem. Dr. Norris (et al) cite a separate study that defines abortion stigma as “a negative attribute ascribed to women who seek to terminate a pregnancy that marks them, internally or externally, as inferior to ideals of womanhood.” The researchers make sure to emphasize that there is no universal abortion stigma experience, just like there is no universal abortion experience.

Unlike several other studies, Dr. Norris and her research team investigate how this stigma impacts not only women who have abortions, but people who work in abortion care and those who actively support abortion rights. Based on that investigative research, they have several proposals for desitmatizing abortion. I’ve highlighted some of the more important aspects of each point, but I recommend reading the entire article if you have a chance.

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“1. Normalize abortion within public discourse

Silence is an important mechanism for individuals coping with abortion stigma; people hope that if no one knows about their relationship to abortion, they cannot be stigmatized. Nevertheless, even a concealed stigma may lead to an internal experience of stigma and health consequences (Quinn & Chaudio, 2009)…Abortion providers, like women who have had abortions and those who support them, may need targeted supports and outlets. We should engage popular media…in the effort to remind people that abortion is common and normal.”

What does this mean for us on a day-to-day basis? We need to do a better job of holding the mainstream media accountable for portraying abortion accurately and realistically (we need a pro-choice version of GLAAD!). We need to support the efforts of organizations like Exhale and Backline that provide specific, intimate support for women who’ve had abortions and organizations like the Abortion Care Network, who provide support for abortion providers.

“2. Be aware of language used within community of abortion supporters

The prochoice community, researchers, and advocates need to avoid language that endorses ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ reasons for having abortions. Prochoice people should not distance themselves from abortion, invoking ‘safe, legal, and rare’ language, which perpetuates stigma (Weitz, 2010).”

We need to honestly address the good abortion/bad abortion dichotomy that we’re all guilty of perpetuating. All abortions are created equal. When we’re talking to the press or to our legislators about abortion, the message is often, “the majority of women abort in the first trimester!” Or, “it wasn’t her fault! She was raped!” This enforces the damning idea that abortions are ok for some women, those few “good” women who didn’t mean to get pregnant, who had an “acceptable” reason for an abortion. When we say that every woman deserves to have access to abortion care, we need our messaging to match. A woman who was raped deserves the same access to an abortion as a woman who is 28 weeks pregnant. Unless the pro-choice movement is fighting for the rights of ALL women to have abortions, we’re settling for less than women deserve, not to mention sending mixed messages to our supporters and to the women for whom we advocate.

In other sections of the article, Dr. Norris and her colleagues suggest strengthening abortion training programs so that more clinicians are able to perform the procedure. They also suggest conducting further research into abortion stigma to better understand how it impacts abortion access. This is where a celebrity could come in. If she/he wants to fund more training programs and research, I don’t think anyone would say no to that.

The stigma surrounding abortion is arguably the most salient factor in keeping celebrities from coming out in direct support of abortion rights. If we are serious about reducing this stigma, we need to investigate and invest in methods that work. Above all, we need to make sure to prioritize the specific people that abortion stigma impacts directly: women who have abortions, abortion providers, and abortion rights activists.

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Leader to Remove Himself From Medical Board Case in Ohio

Michelle D. Anderson

In a letter to the State of Ohio Medical Board, representatives from nine groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Anti-choice leader Mike Gonidakis said Monday that he would remove himself from deciding a complaint against a local abortion provider after several groups asked that he resign as president of the State of Ohio Medical Board.

The Associated Press first reported news of Gonidakis’ decision, which came after several pro-choice groups said he should step down from the medical board because he had a conflict of interest in the pending complaint.

The complaint, filed by Dayton Right to Life on August 3, alleged that three abortion providers working at Women’s Med Center in Dayton violated state law and forced an abortion on a patient that was incapable of withdrawing her consent due to a drug overdose.

Ohio Right to Life issued a news release the same day Dayton Right to Life filed its complaint, featuring a quotation from its executive director saying that local pro-choice advocates forfeit “whatever tinge of credibility” it had if it refused to condemn what allegedly happened at Women’s Med Center.

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Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, had then forwarded a copy of the news release to ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis with a note saying, “Sandy…. Will you finally repudiate the industry for which you so proudly support? So much for ‘women’s health’. So sad.”

On Friday, ProgressOhio, along with eight other groupsDoctors for Health Care Solutions, Common Cause Ohio, the Ohio National Organization for Women, Innovation Ohio, the Ohio House Democratic Women’s Caucus, the National Council of Jewish Women, Democratic Voices of Ohio, and Ohio Voice—responded to Gonidakis’ public and private commentary by writing a letter to the medical board asking that he resign.

In the letter, representatives from those groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Contacted for comment, the medical board did not respond by press time.

The Ohio Medical Board protects the public by licensing and regulating physicians and other health-care professionals in part by reviewing complaints such as the one filed by Dayton Right to Life.

The decision-making body includes three non-physician consumer members and nine physicians who serve five-year terms when fully staffed. Currently, 11 citizens serve on the board.

Gonidakis, appointed in 2012 by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is a consumer member of the board and lacks medical training.

Theis told Rewire in a telephone interview that the letter’s undersigned did not include groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Planned Parenthood in its effort to highlight the conflict with Gonidakis.

“We wanted it to be about ethics” and not about abortion politics, Theis explained to Rewire.

Theis said Gonidakis had publicly condemned three licensed doctors from Women’s Med Center without engaging the providers or hearing the facts about the alleged incident.

“He put his point out there on Main Street having only heard the view of Dayton Right to Life,” Theis said. “In court, a judge who does something like that would have been thrown off the bench.”

Arthur Lavin, co-chairman of Doctors for Health Care Solutions, told the Associated Press the medical board should be free from politics.

Theis said ProgressOhio also exercised its right to file a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission to have Gonidakis removed because Theis had first-hand knowledge of his ethical wrongdoing.

The 29-page complaint, obtained by Rewire, details Gonidakis’ association with anti-choice groups and includes a copy of the email he sent to Theis.

Common Cause Ohio was the only group that co-signed the letter that is decidedly not pro-choice. A policy analyst from the nonpartisan organization told the Columbus Dispatch that Common Cause was not for or against abortion, but had signed the letter because a clear conflict of interest exists on the state’s medical board.

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.

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