Commentary Abortion

Four Ways to Create Culture Change Around Abortion

Steph Herold

Culture change is distinct from policy change and health-care access, but it’s just as important. It’s difficult to imagine long-term policy gains without doing the hard work to change norms, beliefs, and behavior.

Take a moment to think back to where you were in November 2010. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, Part 1 was in theaters. The song you couldn’t get enough of (or get away from) was Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok.” In the political world, the Tea Party had just ascended to legislative power and a slew of anti-choice governors came into office.

Dismayed and depressed by this political turn, I wanted to do something, anything, to show that although they’d won in the polls, anti-choice advocates weren’t winning in the streets. Or, in this case, online. I read a blog post comparing “coming out” about abortion and “coming out” about being gay. It seemed like an easy formula in my mind: “coming out” = culture change.

At the time, using Twitter as a tool for social change was still a relatively new strategy, and I wanted to give it a shot. So I sent the tweet that you see above. I didn’t know what would happen, but I didn’t think it would be a big deal. I actually sent the tweet and then headed to the gym.

Over the course of the day, there were over 10,000 tweets on the hashtag #ihadanabortion. At first, the hashtag accompanied tweets in which people shared their own abortion experiences. Later, anti-choice advocates joined in to shame people sharing their stories on the hashtag. And then came the media. Stories about the hashtag appeared everywhere from feminist-leaning outlets like Jezebel and Salon to mainstream media like CNN and the Washington Post. I had no idea this would happen. Obviously the hashtag struck a nerve, and I was excited.

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Starting a trending topic on Twitter led me to think more deeply about what creating culture change really means. Seeing thousands of tweets on a hashtag you start feels pretty incredible. But what happens the next day, the next week, or the next month? I had what shame expert Brene Brown calls the “vulnerability hangover.” Starting the hashtag felt great. And then I woke up the next day thinking, “What did I do??” I asked all these people to talk about their abortions only to be attacked by anti-abortion activists and ridiculed by mainstream media?

I really wanted to claim that my hashtag made a difference, but I didn’t have concrete evidence. I knew I had made a difference in the lives of a few dozen women and perhaps demonstrated the power of social media. But I kept wondering if I actually affected the broader stigma system. Did I contribute to changing the big picture?

Looking back, my hashtag was based on a simplistic understanding of culture change. In the wake of the media coverage of the hashtag, I began to deepen my understanding of culture change strategies by studying other social justice movements. What I learned validated my frustration with the seemingly ephemeral nature of my online activism; it turns out you often can’t create meaningful, lasting culture change alone and in one day. But my investigation also solidified my belief that culture change efforts are imperative to the policy and health-care access work that our movement is doing. Ignoring culture change to focus on policy and health care may garner some short-term wins, but leaves you without a long-term aspirational vision for change. In other words, a movement that is built only on two legs—policy and health-care access—cannot stand. We need that third leg: culture change.

Culture refers to our beliefs, customs, and norms and how these factors vary by age, race, ethnicity, religion, and other demographic factors. In order to achieve our vision of a world in which all people have the rights, resources, and respect to make their own decisions about their reproductive lives, we need to have a sophisticated approach to culture change. We need to invest in innovation, invention, discovery, and contact.

What exactly do culture change strategies do and how can they add to policy strategies as we move forward our vision?

Address silence, shame, and fear. People keep silent about their abortions for many reasons, including for fear of the consequences of coming out. Culture change initiatives such as private support groups can address this fear by giving people who’ve had stigmatized experiences a chance to connect with each other in a private space. This allows people to come out of isolation and increase their sense of connection to people who understand their experience. It also gives people an immediate support group to aid them in figuring out if and how to disclose their experiences to loved ones in their lives.

Increase visibility. Many stigmatized experiences are concealable—you can’t tell by looking at someone that they’ve had an abortion. So many people don’t realize that they likely know someone who’s had an abortion. Increasing the visibility of marginalized reproductive experiences (such as filming your abortion for millions to see) shows that people who have stigmatized experiences are normal, familiar, and acceptable. Once people know that someone close to them is affected by these experiences, they are likely to be more empathetic toward that experience. This can only mean positive outcomes for us in the policy realm.

Transform negative attitudes, beliefs, and stereotypes. Culture change strategies aim to transform the attitudes and beliefs that contribute to stigma, often by raising awareness about personal experiences. Culture change also addresses discrimination, emphasizing changing behavioral norms in communities and institutions, including behaviors like shaming, not providing services, or condemning people from the pulpit. Creative community- and institutional-level interventions can address these norms, and measure whether targeted attitude change around abortion leads to different behavior at the polls.

Deconstruct myths and misperceptions. This might include misperceptions about the acceptability of judgmental attitudes toward abortion, or myths about the way abortion is provided. In some communities, the public perception is that most people are anti-abortion, but the reality is that, when asked, most people say they would support a friend or family member who needed an abortion. What would happen if you exposed this misperception? If we let people know that they are not alone in their beliefs? What kind of policy change would be possible if we asked questions such as, “How do you think a person who’s had an abortion should be treated?” instead of asking if abortion should be legal? If we stopped asking people to judge the morality or legality of the decisions of their friends and family members and instead asked them to provide support? How many people could we welcome into the pro-choice and reproductive justice communities and activate to create policy change?

Culture change is distinct from policy change and health-care access, but it’s just as important. It’s difficult to imagine long-term policy gains without doing the hard work to change norms, beliefs, and behavior. We’ve seen first-hand that without culture change, no policy change will be long lasting. We have Roe v. Wade, yet that certainly hasn’t guaranteed the right to accessing an abortion in the United States. As we get ready to gear up for another presidential election, we have to remember to prioritize culture change. It’s time to make shift happen.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Republican National Convention Edition

Ally Boguhn

The Trump family's RNC claims about crime and the presidential candidate's record on gender equality have kept fact-checkers busy.

Republicans came together in Cleveland this week to nominate Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention (RNC), generating days of cringe-inducing falsehoods and misleading statements on crime, the nominee’s positions on gender equality, and LGBTQ people.

Trump’s Acceptance Speech Blasted for Making False Claims on Crime

Trump accepted the Republican nomination in a Thursday night speech at the RNC that drew harsh criticism for many of its misleading and outright false talking points.

Numerous fact-checkers took Trump to task, calling out many of his claims for being “wrong,” and “inflated or misleading.”

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 Among the most hotly contested of Trump’s claims was the assertion that crime has exploded across the country.

“Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement,” Trump claimed, according to his prepared remarks, which were leaked ahead of his address. “Homicides last year increased by 17 percent in America’s 50 largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 percent. They are up nearly 60 percent in nearby Baltimore.”

Crime rates overall have been steadily declining for years.

“In 2015, there was an uptick in homicides in 36 of the 50 largest cities compared to the previous years. The rate did, indeed, increase nearly 17 percent, and it was the worst annual change since 1990. The homicide rate was up 54.3 percent in Washington, and 58.5 percent in Baltimore,” explained Washington Post fact checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee. “But in the first months of 2016, homicide trends were about evenly split in the major cities. Out of 63 agencies reporting to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, 32 cities saw a decrease in homicides in first quarter 2016 and 31 saw an increase.”

Ames Grawert, a counsel in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program, said in a statement posted to the organization’s website that 2016 statistics aren’t sufficient in declaring crime rate trends. 

“Overall, crime rates remain at historic lows. Fear-inducing soundbites are counterproductive, and distract from nuanced, data-driven, and solution-oriented conversations on how to build a smarter criminal justice system in America,” Grawert said. “It’s true that some cities saw an increase in murder rates last year, and that can’t be ignored, but it’s too early to say if that’s part of a national trend.” 

When Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, was confronted with the common Republican falsehoods on crime during a Thursday interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, he claimed that the FBI’s statistics were not to be trusted given that the organization recently advised against charges in connection with Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.

“According to FBI statistics, crime rates have been going down for decades,” Tapper told Manafort. “How can Republicans make the argument that it’s somehow more dangerous today when the facts don’t back that up?”

“People don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods,” said Manafort, going on to claim that “the FBI is certainly suspect these days after what they did with Hillary Clinton.”

There was at least one notable figure who wholeheartedly embraced Trump’s fearmongering: former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. “Great Trump Speech,” tweeted Duke on Thursday evening. “Couldn’t have said it better!”

Ben Carson Claims Transgender People Are Proof of “How Absurd We Have Become”

Former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson criticized the existence of transgender people while speaking at the Florida delegation breakfast on Tuesday in Cleveland.  

“You know, we look at this whole transgender thing, I’ve got to tell you: For thousands of years, mankind has known what a man is and what a woman is. And now, all of a sudden we don’t know anymore,” said Carson, a retired neurosurgeon. “Now, is that the height of absurdity? Because today you feel like a woman, even though everything about you genetically says that you’re a man or vice versa?”

“Wouldn’t that be the same as if you woke up tomorrow morning after seeing a movie about Afghanistan or reading some books and said, ‘You know what? I’m Afghanistan. Look, I know I don’t look that way. My ancestors came from Sweden, or something, I don’t know. But I really am. And if you say I’m not, you’re a racist,’” Carson said. “This is how absurd we have become.”

When confronted with his comments during an interview with Yahoo News’ Katie Couric, Carson doubled down on his claims.“There are biological markers that tell us whether we are a male or a female,” said Carson. “And just because you wake up one day and you say, ‘I think I’m the other one,’ that doesn’t change it. Just, a leopard can’t change its spots.”

“It’s not as if they woke up one day and decided, ‘I’m going to be a male or I’m going to be a female,’” Couric countered, pointing out that transgender people do not suddenly choose to change their gender identities on a whim.

Carson made several similar comments last year while on the campaign trail.

In December, Carson criticized the suggested that allowing transgender people into the military amounted to using the armed services “as a laboratory for social experimentation.”

Carson once suggested that allowing transgender people to use the restroom that aligned with their gender identity amounted to granting them “extra rights.”

Ivanka Trump Claims Her Father Supports Equal Pay, Access to Child Care

Ivanka Trump, the nominee’s daughter, made a pitch during her speech Thursday night at the RNC for why women voters should support her father.

“There have always been men of all background and ethnicities on my father’s job sites. And long before it was commonplace, you also saw women,” Ivanka Trump said. “At my father’s company, there are more female than male executives. Women are paid equally for the work that we do and when a woman becomes a mother, she is supported, not shut out.” 

“As president, my father will change the labor laws that were put into place at a time when women were not a significant portion of the workforce. And he will focus on making quality child care affordable and accessible for all,” she continued before pivoting to address the gender wage gap. 

“Policies that allow women with children to thrive should not be novelties; they should be the norm. Politicians talk about wage equality, but my father has made it a practice at his company throughout his entire career.”

However, Trump’s stated positions on the gender wage gap, pregnancy and mothers in the workplace, and child care don’t quite add up to the picture the Trumps tried to paint at the RNC.

In 2004, Trump called pregnancy an “inconvenience” for employers. When a lawyer asked for a break during a deposition in 2011 to pump breast milk, Trump reportedly called her “disgusting.”

According to a June analysis conducted by the Boston Globe, the Trump campaign found that men who worked on Trump’s campaign “made nearly $6,100, or about 35 percent more [than women during the April payroll]. The disparity is slightly greater than the gender pay gap nationally.”

A former organizer for Trump also filed a discrimination complaint in January, alleging that she was paid less than her male counterparts.

When Trump was questioned about equal pay during a campaign stop last October, he did not outline his support for policies to address the issue. Instead, Trump suggested that, “You’re gonna make the same if you do as good a job.” Though he had previously stated that men and women who do the same job should be paid the same during an August 2015 interview on MSNBC, he also cautioned that determining whether people were doing the same jobs was “tricky.”

Trump has been all but completely silent on child care so far on the campaign trail. In contrast, Clinton released an agenda in May to address the soaring costs of child care in the United States.

Ivanka’s claims were not the only attempt that night by Trump’s inner circle to explain why women voters should turn to the Republican ticket. During an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Manafort said that women would vote for the Republican nominee because they “can’t afford their lives anymore.”

“Many women in this country feel they can’t afford their lives, their husbands can’t afford to be paying for the family bills,” claimed Manafort. “Hillary Clinton is guilty of being part of the establishment that created that problem. They’re going to hear the message. And as they hear the message, that’s how we are going to appeal to them.”

What Else We’re Reading

Vox’s Dara Lind explained how “Trump’s RNC speech turned his white supporters’ fear into a weapon.”

Now that Mike Pence is the Republican nominee for vice president, Indiana Republicans have faced “an intense, chaotic, awkward week of brazen lobbying at the breakfast buffet, in the hallways and on the elevators” at the convention as they grapple with who will run to replace the state’s governor, according to the New York Times.

“This is a party and a power structure that feels threatened with extinction, willing to do anything for survival,” wrote Rebecca Traister on Trump and the RNC for New York Magazine. “They may not love Trump, but he is leading them precisely because he embodies their grotesque dreams of the restoration of white, patriarchal power.”

Though Trump spent much of the primary season denouncing big money in politics, while at the RNC, he courted billionaires in hopes of having them donate to supporting super PACs.

Michael Kranish reported for the Washington Post that of the 2,472 delegates at the RNC, it is estimated that only 18 were Black.

Cosmopolitan highlighted nine of the most sexist things that could be found at the convention.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) asked, “Where are these contributions that have been made” by people of color to civilization?