One in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime,
according to data from the Guttmacher Institute. However, abortion is still stigmatized, and it is rare for women to speak publicly about the procedure. A campaign launched by Advocates for Youth (AFY) seeks to end the stigma surrounding abortion by organizing student activists around the country to speak out about abortion experiences. The 1 in 3 Campaign is a “grassroots movement to start a new conversation about abortion” and seeks to “end the stigma and shame women are made to feel about abortion.”
AFY Executive Director Debra Hauser told Rewire that the campaign was created to change the conversation about abortion. “It is a mechanism to shift the cultural dialogue around abortion,” said Hauser. “There is a polarizing debate and a lot of fear mongering fueling anti-abortion legislation around the country. We wanted to shift the focus from the politicized debate to one that puts women at the center of the discussion.”
Hauser said that there are more than 130 events planned around the country, with about 100 planned on college campuses. She believes that these events are essential to building empathy and breaking through the stigma and through the silence. “We know that abortion is in women’s history throughout the generations,” said Hauser. “The real question is whether or not it will remain safe and legal.”
Melodi Stone, director of Women’s Rights Coalition (WRC) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), told Rewire about advocating for reproductive rights on a campus in the South. “Talking about abortion in the South is different,” said Stone. “We don’t want our members to face the stigma themselves so we are careful how we present ourselves.” Stone says that the WRC spends a significant amount of time making its members available to the UAB student body by setting up informational tables in high-traffic areas around campus.
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Stone says that students have had a mixed reaction to her group on campus. One of the most common reactions is to question if they are from Alabama. “People ask if you’re from here or ‘Are you from New York’,” said Stone. “When I tell people that I’m from here and not from California [it] forces [them] to consider the issue differently. We try to speak to people’s values and not about issues.”
Thursday night, as part of the 1 in 3 Campaign, the WRC will host a conversation about abortion. Stone says
the purpose of the event is to “get students talking and to get rid of misinformation.” The event is one of five that the WRC has planned to have over the course of the year.
WRC hopes to use activism on campus to effect the public policy debate in Alabama. “1 in 3 is changing perspectives,” said Stone. “We also take the policy route, because we need both. But you have to change minds on campus and in the legislature. It’s very hard to get students involved because of the power politics of Alabama, but a campaign like 1 in 3 helps to get students empowered and ready to work.”
Stone thinks that information is the key to empowerment. “If they are informed, then they are powerful, and powerful women impact their community.”