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.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.

News Human Rights

After Suicide Attempt, Chelsea Manning Faces Indefinite Solitary Confinement

Michelle D. Anderson

“Now, while Chelsea is suffering the darkest depression she has experienced since her arrest, the government is taking actions to punish her for that pain. It is unconscionable and we hope that the investigation is immediately ended and that she is given the health care that she needs to recover,” said Chase Strangio, an ACLU staff attorney.

Transgender Army veteran and WikiLeaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning is being threatened with indefinite solitary confinement in connection to her July 5 suicide attempt.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said U.S. Army officials notified Manning of an investigation into her suicide attempt. Three serious charges are being brought against her.

A transcribed charge sheet provided by the ACLU shows that Manning is under investigation for resisting force from the cell move team, possessing prohibited property, and engaging in “conduct which threatens.”

Manning, who was arrested in 2010 for releasing classified government documents to WikiLeaks, is serving a 35-year prison sentence at the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, an all-male maximum security prison.

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In 2014, Manning, with the help of the ACLU, the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital, the ACLU of Kansas, and civilian defense counsel David E. Coombs, sued then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and other Department of Defense and Department of the Army officials for failing to treat her gender dysphoria, a violation of her constitutional rights.

Army physicians had diagnosed Manning with the condition several years prior, according to the lawsuit.

As a remedy, the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare has recommended that inmates like Manning receive medical treatment that follows World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) standards of care, like providing hormone therapy. Several respected medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association, support WPATH recommendations.

Chase Strangio, a staff attorney with the ACLU, said in a statement that the investigation was “deeply troubling” and noted that government continues to deny Manning medical care related to her gender dysphoria condition and her recent suicide attempt.

“Now, while Chelsea is suffering the darkest depression she has experienced since her arrest, the government is taking actions to punish her for that pain. It is unconscionable and we hope that the investigation is immediately ended and that she is given the health care that she needs to recover,” Strangio said.

Along with indefinite solitary confinement, the ACLU said Manning could face reclassification into maximum-security prison, an additional nine years in medium custody for the remainder of her 35-year long sentence, if convicted of the “administrative offenses.”

The ACLU said the Army could also negate any chance for parole.

ACLU spokeswoman Allison Steinberg told Rewire the ramifications Manning faces derive from the Army’s Institutional Offense Policy.

Fight for the Future Campaign Director Evan Greer, whose group collected more than 100,000 signatures last year when the Army threatened Manning with solitary confinement for possessing LGBTQ literature and an expired tube of toothpaste, said in a statement that the U.S. government’s treatment of Chelsea was a “travesty.”

“Those in charge should know that the whole world is watching, and we won’t stand idly by while this administration continues to harass and abuse Chelsea Manning,” Greer said.

Just two days before Manning and her legal team learned of the investigation, she told followers on her verified Twitter account, “Feeling a little bit better every day. Thank you for your mail, your love, and your support. Things will get back to normal soon.”