Commentary Abortion

“Anything 46 Million Women Do Every Year Can’t Be Immoral:” Reflections from FIGO

Tracy Weitz

The 46 million women who have abortions every year throughout the world deserve to be respected—not seen as targets of prevention.

Cross-posted with permission from the ANSIRH blog.

This week I had the opportunity to attend the tri-annual meeting of the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) in Rome, Italy. Despite being on the last day of the conference and running opposite two other panels addressing abortion, our session on abortion stigma was well-attended. My co-panelists, brought together by International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), offered a wide-ranging set of approaches to understanding and addressing abortion stigma worldwide. What struck me most was the simple and direct statement made by Dr. Nozer Sheriar, an obstetrician-gynecologist from India, who explained why he supports women who have abortions: “anything 46 million women do every year can’t be immoral.”

How beautiful was his deep respect for women. And he is right: regardless of the legal paradigm in the country, the presence or absence of safe providers, or the level of risk to their lives, women across the globe have abortions. They do so because they know what is necessary for their families, their circumstances, and their futures. Abortion is a universal experience that transcends the politics and the cultures of the world. And, as Dr. Sheriar notes, it is a moral action taken by moral agents.

After I left the panel, I attended the closing ceremony of the conference. In the echoes of a huge cavernous room, I stared at the poorly-crafted powerpoint slides of the incoming FIGO president. Highlighted among all the organization’s priorities were the four selected for his leadership attention, including “addressing unsafe abortion.” I realized how surprised I was to see abortion called out, not hidden and worked on secretly, but there as an issue that needs to be addressed directly. Care delivery—not just prevention—requires our attention.

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Perhaps this focus on abortion-care delivery was so remarkable to me because of the U.S.-based conversation dominating my email inbox at the same time. A new study from the Choices project in Saint Louis had reported a reduction in abortion rates among women who were offered free contraception. Once again, the pro-choice community seemed thrilled at the idea that we had found the solution to the abortion conflict. If only we had free contraception, abortion would be less prevalent and therefore, presumably, the political fight less intense. We seem to believe that the numbers of abortions are the problem, not the lack of respect for women’s control over their lives.

As I have written before, it is not that I do not believe contraception is important—I do. But it is important because it is one of the many tools that should be easily available to help women control their fertility. It helps them avoid an unintended pregnancy—that may be carried to term or terminated. But it is not important because it reduces the number of abortions—a concept that actually increases abortion stigma. Not pitting pregnancy prevention against abortion rates may seem like a semantic difference, but it is a critically important one for women. Making all the tools, all the options available and equally acceptable is an approach that puts women at the center of the conversation.

The 46 million women who have abortions every year throughout the world deserve to be respected—not seen as targets of prevention.

Commentary Media

The Grassroots Advocates Behind Wendy Davis’ Epic Filibuster

Melissa Mikesell

Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis achieved an unexpected victory for the reproductive health movement last Wednesday, but she didn’t do it alone.

Cross-posted with permission from Bolder Advocacy.

Read more of Rewire‘s coverage of the recent fight for reproductive rights in Texas here.

Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis achieved an unexpected victory for the reproductive health movement last Wednesday, but she didn’t do it alone.

Davis' actions created a "seismic shift" in Texas politics.

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Davis’ actions created a “seismic shift” in Texas politics.

While we all know about that now-famous back brace, little attention has been paid to the nonprofits that helped shine the spotlight on this amazing moment, and helped gather the stories about why access to reproductive services is so essential to a woman’s health and freedom.

“Nonprofits and their supporters put the eyes of the world on Texas,” says Austin-based Jason Sabo, a consultant to progressive nonprofits. “From the outset Sen. Wendy Davis recognized the depth of support for her efforts. Nonprofits were a critical part of the infrastructure that spread the word about what was happening at the Texas Capitol.”

The Social Media Storm

As the Washington Post reported, Texas advocacy groups were behind the social media campaign that brought Sen. Davis to the attention of national leaders like President Obama and Nancy Pelosi, as well as actors and activists:

“In the days before the filibuster, the pro-choice organization NARAL Texas used Facebook to organize rides for supporters who wanted to witness Davis’ speech. Planned Parenthood Texas and a progressive women’s group called Annie’s List live-tweeted from the gallery…

The hashtag #standwithwendy, which racked up 547,000 tweets during the course of Davis’ speech, was actually coined — and promoted — by the Texas branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.”

Empowering and Enabling the Community to Tell Their Stories

NARAL and other groups mobilized the amazing turnout at the 'People's Filibuster'

NARAL and other groups mobilized the amazing turnout at the ‘People’s Filibuster’

On deeply personal issues like access to reproductive health-care services, advocates must first help community members understand they have a story worth telling, that their voice will matter to legislators, and help them to tell a story that will resonate. As Andy Goodman notes about using stories for influencing public debate:

“[S]tories aren’t about quickly informing. They are about drawing an emotional response from your audience after they have taken the full ride.”

Those of you, who, like me, were glued to your computer screen during the most of her debate, will recall that most of Sen. Davis’ 12.5 hours were filled primarily with stories from constituents who would be affected by SB 5.

So, How Exactly Did Wendy Davis Have Enough Stories to Tell During the 12.5 Hours She Talked?

Many of these stories were collected on her website. But nonprofits contacted their networks to encourage people to come forward. Heather Busby of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas explains how pro-choice and progressive organizations helped:

“We solicited stories via social media and email and I forwarded them along to Wendy’s staff. The progressive nonprofits in the state pushed folks to Wendy’s website where they were doing story collection and Progress Texas actually set up a similar page to collect stories — Wendy’s site was actually her campaign site, so we wanted to have a nonpartisan alternative for 501(c)(3)s to use.”

Nonprofit organizations like Advocates for Youth have been training community members to tell their own stories as a proactive strategy to fight back against anti-abortion bills around the country for a number of years now. As Julia Reticker-Flynn, manager of Advocates for Youth’s Youth Activist Network explains in a blog post on their project, called the 1 in 3 Campaign:

“We wanted a new approach to activism on abortion issues that was pro-active and on our own terms…And we wanted to honor the complexity of people’s lives. Ultimately, we wanted a new conversation—one that didn’t focus on the politicized debate around abortion, but focused on people.”

Many studies have found that when a person is connect to the story of another person’s struggle, they are much more likely to want to help—either by taking action, donating money, or by telling a friend—than they would if they are just told how big a problem is to society as a whole.

Without the nonprofit community organizers who helped build the community leaders who could tell the types of powerful stories that at times made Sen. Davis break out in tears, I’m certain her filibuster would not have lasted as long as it did, and it would not have resonated with the hundreds of thousands of people who were glued to their computer monitors all night long!

Building Legislative Leaders

Sen. Davis’ bravery also reminded me of how essential it is for all nonprofit advocates to cultivate effective legislative leaders who are positioned to be a champion on the organization’s issue.

Clearly not every policymaker who is an ally of an organization needs to be a champion for the organization’s issues the way Sen. Davis is for women’s health, but it is critical for every organization to have at least a select few.

Arabella Advisors has described a champion policymaker as someone who “consistently, aggressively and effectively” advocates for an issue “among fellow policymakers, and they can both help the community be heard in deliberations among policymakers and demonstrate the strong support needed to move policy priorities forward.”

Planned Parenthood Action of Texas is helping to organize the July 1 rally.

Planned Parenthood Action of Texas helped organize the July 1 rally.

Clearly we could all use a few policymakers like Wendy Davis on our side!

What’s Next in Texas

This week, individual and nonprofit activists are back at the capitol, protesting Gov. Rick Perry’s decision to call a special session during which it is more likely that SB 5 will pass. As the Facebook page of NARAL Pro Choice Texas illustrates, they and their supporters are not backing down. Monday they held a huge rally and they’re planning a series of activities, from house parties to phone banks.

As nonprofit consultant Sabo says, thanks to Davis, there’s been “a seismic shift” in Texas politics:

“The power of advocacy has been re-awakened under the pink dome.”

Analysis Abortion

African Americans and Abortion: An Intriguing Poll

Carole Joffe

A poll in July 2012 surveying African Americans and Hispanics on their attitudes about abortion (among other issues) brought striking results: The majority support access to safe abortion care.

Cross-posted with permission from the ANSIRH blog.

Americans appear to be in a period of heightened support for abortion, as revealed in a number of recent national polls. In contrast to earlier polls, which typically showed the country split nearly 50-50 on the abortion question, exit polling on election day 2012 showed a considerably higher level of support for legal abortion, with 59 percent of respondents wanting abortion to remain legal (and an even higher 66 percent of Latinos/as offering this view).

After the election, in a much-discussed Wall St. Journal poll taken around the time of the 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade in January, 70 percent of respondents stated their opposition to the decision being overturned, the highest number since 1989. Moreover, in contrast to previous polls, the same poll showed, for the first time, a majority support for abortion in all or most situations. As I suggested in a previous ANSIRH blog, these numbers appear to reflect the public’s reaction to the extremist views on abortion—and contraception as well—that were articulated by Republican candidates in the recent election season, from the Romney–Ryan ticket down to Senate and lower-level races.

But another poll, which has received far less attention, and which I stumbled upon in the course of preparing a webinar, is equally intriguing to me for what it says about emergent abortion politics. This was a poll performed by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) in July 2012, which surveyed African Americans and Hispanics on their attitudes about abortion, among other issues. Addressing here only the results from black respondents, three findings in particular struck me: the 67 percent who believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases (essentially identical to the Wall St. Journal poll mentioned above), the 57 percent who said that there should be abortion services available in their communities, and the 66 percent who said they believe abortion clinics are, for the most part, safe.

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Why do I find these results so striking? First, for the past several years the anti-choice movement, in collaboration with conservative forces within the African-American community, has been working relentlessly to derive political capital from the high rate of abortions among black women. The notorious billboard campaign in major American cities, which conveyed such messages as “the most dangerous place for a black child is in his mother’s womb,” and that “abortion enslaves us,” has been a central part of these efforts. Another major talking point of this anti-choice outreach to the African-American community is the alleged scandal that abortion clinics are disproportionately located in predominantly black communities—a point whose accuracy is disputed by the Guttmacher Institute.

Yet the PRRI poll, if it is to be believed, suggests what a failure these efforts have been: not only do black Americans currently support legal abortion in the same high numbers as other Americans, they also apparently want abortion providing facilities within their communities. Indeed, in the interesting way that social movements operate, often spurring counter-movements in reaction, the billboard campaign, in particular, was effectively and forcefully countered by a new reproductive justice group called Trust Black Women, a group which likely has had the ultimate effect of increasing the acceptability of open support for abortion rights within the African-American community.

A second reason that I find this poll so interesting is that another major campaign of the anti-choice movement in recent years has been to convince the American people (not just African Americans) that abortion is medically unsafe. This alleged lack of safety in abortion facilities serve as the rationale for various legislative strategies of abortion opponents , e.g. laws requiring clinics to conform to the physical requirements of ambulatory surgery centers—regulations that abortion supporters state have nothing to do with abortion safety and everything to do with making it financially impossible for clinics to remain open. (Critics of such legislation point to research showing that first-trimester abortion is fourteen times as safe as childbirth.) Again, if the PRRI poll is to be believed, two-thirds of African Americans have not been swayed by arguments that abortion is medically unsafe.

As heartening as abortion rights supporters might find the polls mentioned in this post, it is of course worth emphasizing the disconnect between what such polls say—not to mention what the recent presidential election suggests—and what is currently transpiring with respect to abortion in numerous state legislatures. Despite these strong indications of widespread support for legal abortion, a number of state legislatures have been pursuing anti-choice measures with redoubled zeal since the election.

And this will not change until it is no longer in these politicians’ electoral interest to pass such measures. Translating the strong support for abortion shown in polls to actual voting behavior in the states is arguably the key challenge facing the pro-choice movement at this moment.