Commentary Abortion

Eliminating Abortion Stigma: Playing Offense Starts With You

Jessica Griffin

At Netroots Nation congressional candidate Darcy Burner encouraged the Left to being playing offense on the War of Women by supporting women who tell their abortion stories, but challenging the cultural narrative about abortion shouldn't be a burden that rests solely on the sholders of women who have had them. 

A year and a half ago I joined two other women in telling my abortion story on MTV’s 16 and Pregnant. Though we were certainly not the first women to speak out publicly about our abortion experiences, doing so on a television show about teen mothers quickly sparked a heated debate. Bill O’Reilly even went so far as to condemn the show as “glorifying abortion” because host Dr. Drew dared to call us “brave” for sharing our experiences. Since then, many others have come forward. 16 and Pregnant recently featured the abortion experience of Brittany DeJesus in an episode about her younger sister’s unplanned pregnancy, and the 1 in 3 campaign has provided a platform for many other women to begin speaking out.

Though no woman should ever feel required to “come out” about her abortion, the War on Women seems to have sparked a trend, and I have been contacted by many women who seek to come out in some capacity – either to friends and family members privately, or on Facebook, Youtube, or other social media. Our discussions always center around one theme – how do you tell your story honestly without seeming proud or happy? How do you say, “I had an abortion” with confidence, but with sensitivity to the diversity of experiences and feelings surrounding that phrase? And finally, does it matter?

Until recently, I’ve struggled with the answers to these questions. On the one hand, I have urged women to remain true to their own feelings. On the other, I have understood that the tone of our narratives could hold political consequences. For so long the rhetoric of the pro-choice Democrat’s position has focused on “safe, legal and rare” – with the “rare” reinforcing the idea that abortion, though permissible, should be shameful and undesirable. Nobody wants to have an abortion, after all.

And so the debate continues – online in the comments of our stories and nationally in our social conscience: is speaking about our abortion experiences brave and necessary or promotional? And can you support women who have had abortions without supporting abortion itself?

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While I certainly understand the impulse of even the most well-intentioned to suggest that nobody wants an abortion, I can’t help but feel that it is an incorrect and dangerous sentiment to hold. A more correct statement would be that nobody wants to have an unplanned pregnancy. Sometimes those of us who find ourselves facing one really do want an abortion. Winning the moral, cultural, and political debate surrounding abortion rights means that we must not give the other side the upper hand on any aspect. Suggesting that nobody wants an abortion or that nobody should be willing and happy to talk about her experience reinforces the idea that it is shameful – and it gives the other side the moral advantage.

Which is why congressional candidate Darcy Burner’s speech at Netroots Nation last week was so refreshing.  In it she outlines how the Left can begin playing offense in the War on Women. Central to her proposed strategy is challenging the “stories that people play in their heads” about women and abortion.

First, I want to thank Darcy Burner for recognizing this, and for being willing to support those of us who do chose to use our personal lives to protect the political rights of others.

Second, I want to suggest that the burden of changing the stories that people play in their heads about abortion is not just the responsibly of those who have had them. Ms. Burner goes on to say that “we need to make it okay for women to come out about the choices that we’ve made.” While I am confident that our stories can make a difference, the burden cannot be on those of us who have had abortions alone.

So what will it take? I want to suggest that support for the individuals who share their stories and support for abortion as an option, as a medical procedure, cannot be divorced – to do so places far too much of a burden on the women sharing their stories. Women who have abortions are good women. Abortion, when desired by a woman, is a good procedure. Abortion itself holds no moral weigh except in the context of its usage. Therefore, in order to change to stories in our heads we must resist forces that tell us that abortion as a procedure is bad, shameful, or not to be supported.

If we want women to come forward, to use their stories to change the narrative about abortion, then we must first create a culture in which women who have had an abortion can feel supported in having done so. That starts with challenging the myths in our own heads about abortion and women who have them. It means that each and every one of us needs to stop apologizing for abortion.

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

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.