Anonymous’ post on Jezebel last week was a provocative and poignant critique of calls for women to come out about their abortions. We agree whole-heartedly that no one should be pushed to disclose an experience that they are not ready or willing to talk about publicly. We want to engage with Anonymous’ critique (and other critiques) to address some of the misunderstandings about this project.
How did you come up for the idea for this Tumblr?
During my summer internship at ANSIRH, my fellow researchers and I began to notice a trend of women publicly documenting their abortion experiences. As I wrote on RH Reality Check, we had the idea to create a space to view these narratives side by side.
What were you hoping you could accomplish by bringing women’s stories of abortion together in this way?
As researchers, we have a particular vantage point which allows us to identify and follow certain trends, such as the abortion story-telling trend. Even the writers themselves may not have known that other women were opening up about their abortion experiences in published blogs and news websites. On the one hand, we thought connecting these stories might increase the reach of individual writers. We also hoped it would allow us to analyze themes in the narratives and the range of voices emerging online. Our goal was not to encourage or discourage “coming out” but rather to provide a place where these individual author’s stories could be viewed together.
How is the tumblr site different than other sites which feature abortion stories?
We are not editing or providing commentary on these stories. We are not appropriating them for advocacy purposes. Our site is a space to explore a diversity of published accounts of abortion. Other parts of our site highlight research about abortion stigma and “coming out” in the context of other stigmatized experiences. Additionally, we have a set of recommendations, drawn from research and advocacy groups on how to support the women who do write about abortion experiences online. We welcome commentary on the website, whether through blog posts or email. We specifically chose to use a tumblr format because it would allow the website to be dynamic and evolve over time.
In the past, you have debated the prochoice movement’s use of “coming out” as an advocacy tool. Where do you stand now? How has your thinking evolved?
In the fall of 2010, I became frustrated with what I considered bullying antiabortion messages on Twitter. I tweeted and asked women to come out about their abortions using the hashtag #ihadanabortion as a way to stand up to these anti-choice scare tactics. Within hours hundreds of women were tweeting their abortion stories. After trending nationwide, the hashtag received extensive media attention. I talked to Exhale co-founder Aspen Baker about public abortion story sharing in The Nation, explaining why I think women should come out about their abortion experiences.
Over the last two years, thanks to the work of organizations like Exhale, ANSIRH, and the commentaries of many thoughtful activists, my thinking has shifted. I don’t believe that it’s the responsibility of those who’ve had abortions to disclose their experiences publicly for the benefit of the abortion rights movement. When we ask people to come out about their abortions, what are we asking them to “come out” into? A culture rampant with abortion stigma? Communities, friends, and families who may judge or shame them for their decision? As Katie Stack pointed out last month, it’s the responsibility of everyone, not just those who’ve had abortions, to dismantle the stigma around abortion. Once we create a culture that supports people who’ve had abortions, then we can figure out how to help them “come out,” if they so choose.
In the LGBT movement, calls to “come out” have generally come from individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. How is this similar or dissimilar in the prochoice movement?
In my research I hope to explore abortion stigma, storytelling, and the relationships between “coming out” and destigmatization. This means exploring the experiences of women, providers, activists and others who may be affected by abortion stigma. Many people who experience abortion stigma experience it from multiple identities. For example, some abortion providers have also had their own abortions. Some women have had several abortions under vastly different circumstances. Other people have only one experience with abortion: their own, a friend’s, a partner’s. Tonight as I write this, hundreds of women are considering having an abortion for the first time. In other words, it’s not just women who’ve had abortions who are trying to find their voice in this stigmatizing climate.
When we operate in a world entrenched in abortion stigma, the best we can do is try to understand each other. By re-posting these stories side by side, we seek to better understand the experience of abortion from women who have multiple perspectives. We also hope to encourage people to listen to these abortion stories, and find ethical, empathetic ways to engage with them.