When the pro-choice movement perpetuates abortion stigma

1 Feb

Last week I had the privilege of participating in a panel called Demystifying Abortion, an event that aimed to shift the conversation away from the politics of abortion into the day to day reality of reproductive health care provision here in NYC. I was on the panel representing NYAAF, the abortion fund here, and joining me was an abortion provider, an abortion doula, a woman who’d had an abortion, a representative from Exhale, and a clinic escort. While the panel did a lot to shed light on the who, what, when, where, and why of abortion, it also did something I didn’t expect: it revealed just how much the pro-choice movement itself stigmatizes abortion.

Stigma manifested itself in a number of ways. For one, the abortion doula decided to use this quote to describe why women have abortions: “A woman wants an abortion as an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg.” Unbeknownst to the doula, this quote is from the anti-choice group Feminists for Life, and is meant to describe a desperation that is destructive, a desperation that leaves a woman alive but (literally) hurt by the experience. Did the doula know the context of this quote? No, and I’m sure she thought she was somehow making women who have abortions sympathetic to the audience. Regardless of the quote’s origins, do we really want to discuss abortion in the context of self-mutilation? To do so is misleading, manipulative, and harmful.

The doula wasn’t the only person to perpetuate abortion stigma. During the Q&A after the panel, several women shared their abortion stories. One woman in particular mentioned that after listening to the representative from Exhale, she felt guilty for not feeling regret after her abortion. I have no doubt that Exhale provides support to women regardless of how they feel after their abortions, but there is something not quite right with your messaging if you’re making women question the validity of their emotional responses, positive or negative.

What surprised me most about the event (though it really shouldn’t have surprised me) was how much both the provider and the doula emphasized that most abortions are not later abortions, and that later abortions are particularly icky. The provider casually mentioned that some people pass out when they see later abortions (giving absolutely no context as to why, leaving the audience to assume the worst), the doula emphasized that all women who have later abortions cry their eyes out before and afterwards. Is it true that some people pass out and some women cry? Of course. But to lay out these statements as universal truths is misinformation, and stigmatizes later abortions (what could be so bad that people pass out??) and the women who have them (what could be so bad that they cry all the time?). What could’ve been useful: some science on later abortions and the women who have them. The truth? Most people don’t pass out. Some women cry, some women don’t. Making later abortions sound like gruesome tragedies stigmatizes the women who need them and the clinicians who perform them.

I understand why we emphasize that the majority of abortions are first trimester abortions from a PR standpoint–most people are grossed out by the idea of later abortions, I get it. And the reality is that most abortions happen in the first trimester. But does emphasizing this over and over do anything besides stigmatize later abortions? Shouldn’t we have empathy, respect, and compassion for all women who need abortions no matter when they have them? We do our movement, and the women we serve, a disservice when we say that an early abortion is ideal and a later abortion is tragic or bad. In doing so, we lose the nuance of why women have abortions, of their personal stories, and instead focus on what makes us comfortable or uncomfortable. It’s not about us. It’s about the women who have abortions.

I don’t want to give the impression that this event was a disaster. In fact, it was the exact opposite. What could be better than an enthusiastic and eager audience listening to experts talk about the ins and outs of getting an abortion? With that said, I do not think the pro-choice movement is absolved from thinking about how we perpetuate certain myths and stigma surrounding abortion. It’s not just the anti-choice folks who succeed in this role. We clearly have some work to do on our own.

Note: To clarify, this post is not meant as a criticism of the work of any of the organizations represented by individuals on this panel. Rather, this post is a critique of abortion stigma, and is meant to cast a light on how pervasive this stigma is, as even members of the pro-choice movement ourselves perpetuate it. 

27 Responses to “When the pro-choice movement perpetuates abortion stigma”

  1. pictish February 1, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

    Hear, hear.

    Consciously or unconsciously feeding the ‘abortion is icky’ meme does great disservice to reproductive rights.

    I wonder if the reproductive rights movement might learn something from the LGBT movement in that respect. For a long time the anti-LGBT rights movement benefited from the charge on the idea that ‘gay sex is icky’. Now it’s just another of the options on the menu, and those who oppose LGBT rights are losing the fight.

    Changing the ‘abortion is icky’ meme will take some doing, and that effort will probably require the production of movies and TV shows where a sympathetic character has an abortion and is fine with it and life goes on. That doesn’t sound very dramatic, but if the writer was very talented they could make it work.

  2. Aspen Baker February 1, 2012 at 4:28 pm #

    An alternative view point? When I hear that two different women who have had abortions spoke in a public forum about their personal experiences and were able to speak about their unique feelings and express their differences, I hear a great example of what it looks like and sounds like when stigma is on the decline. A stigmatized environment would never allow such a thing to take place. Women who feel stigmatized would keep their feelings to themselves. Less stigma means more personal, public conversations just like this one. What a strong, empowered, exciting place to be.

  3. alice February 1, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

    i cired when i had my abortion, but thats because iw as scared of the general anesthetic, not the procedure or anything emotional. when i woke up after i also cried, but that was because i was so happy, like the weight of the world was off my shoulders.

  4. Maggie February 1, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

    We spend a lot of time minimizing how often abortion happens, how much money is spent on abortion at places like Planned Parenthood, and trying to shift the discussion. Once it’s pointed out it’s hard to miss. After hearing Merle Hoffman speak to this a few weeks ago it struck me how much is put on minimizing and hiding it, and just how much the stigma has remained. I think this is the case with many other areas well though. Contraception and menstruation seem to be taboo to talk about to loudly. They’re topics for quiet discussion with certain friends.

    The pro-choice community needs to actively work to turn this around and recognize abortion as something we can talk about properly, and no one needs to feel any particular way about having an abortion.

  5. Jeannie Ludlow February 1, 2012 at 7:46 pm #

    Steph, this is so right on. How many times have I heard myself say “abortion can be really hard for some women” without also saying “and really wonderful and easy for others” (even though my own was wonderful and easy!)? I am very glad to know that this event happened and that you were there. I am also completely in agreement that many of the things we in the abortion rights movement say actually perpetuate stigmatization.

    As a speaker in one of my favorite documentary films says, “I want to continue to be willing to be the bad example,” to figure out what I am doing that perpetuates stigma and work to change that in a conscious and honest way, so others can see how easy it can be to say the less-stigmatizing things!

    Thank you for writing.

  6. Simone February 2, 2012 at 4:50 am #

    I agree with Alice that assumptions are made about physiological reactions during abortions. I violently threw up multiple times right before mine and was given both oral and then IV anti-anxiety medications despite not being upset or nervous. I ended up laughing through the procedure due to being overly doped, which later caused some emotional guilt and possibly added to the circumstances that led me to have a massive uterine infection due to some severe cuts I received while convulsing. 3 days later they finally figured out I was just allergic to the antibiotic they gave me, but by then I hadn’t been able to keep the antibiotics down for that whole time, and also could not eat or even drink water, and had a fever of 105 due to the onset of infection, AND suffered an overdose on painkillers when it was assumed my mounting pain was natural resistance and no thought being given with instructions to the fact I wasn’t eating. My abortion that I went into being okay with turned into a spiraling nightmare I personally see as linked to the fact no one though I might be vomiting for a medical reason.

  7. Frances Kissling February 2, 2012 at 9:15 am #

    There are so many problems with using the “animal in a trap” quote. There is no doubt that some women feel desperation but comparing them to animals is highly problematic and offensive. and feeds into the notion of abortion decisions as purely emotional and irrational. Women are not animals. As distraught as they may be and as limited as their choices may be once pregnant they do have the capacity to make decisions. They are moral agents in ways animals are not. The implication of the comparison is that women are unable to think rationally rationally when faced with an unintended pregnancy. They need to be protected from themselves.

  8. Kaitlyn February 2, 2012 at 11:14 am #

    Hi Aspen – I just wanted to quickly respond to your comment. Abortion Gang is certainly a space that loves to hear a lot of opinions expressed. We often have internal debates, and rarely do we completely agree about things being posted on the site. However, we have a few basic ground rules, and “no shaming” is absolutely one of them. I myself, in my eagerness to show how different we are from the stereotypes about us that are so often perpetuated, have been guilty of an apologist tone that could be interpreted as implying that it is normal or right to feel shame about an abortion, and then needed to be checked by my fellow bloggers.

    An open discussion and an expression of different opinions is an incitement to discourse, not an inherent sign that we’re making progress. We’re making progress when we can express and own our personal feelings and experiences without extrapolating from them or believing they necessarily speak to someone else’s feelings and experiences.

    Many experiences and thoughts can be expressed in an environment that still promotes the idea that some ideas and feelings are right, while others are less so. Our goal here at the blog, and we hope as a movement, is to create an environment in which, first and foremost, everyone’s personal feelings and experiences are perceived and acknowledged as valid, in a way that is recognizable. What’s important to remember is that it is likely that none of the women on the panel *meant* to create a shaming or stigmatizing environment; what Steph is pointing out is that it happened regardless, and we all need to be aware of how we’re expressing our thoughts and opinions to ensure that this is never the case.

    Thanks so much!
    K

  9. Elizabeth February 2, 2012 at 1:36 pm #

    Yep. My abortions were emotionally neutral experiences- they were not moral epicenters- and I plan on keeping them that way.
    We need more activism and more messaging around this trend. Thank you.

  10. Katha Pollitt February 2, 2012 at 3:00 pm #

    Re: the quote, do those animals survive? I’m no expert, but I don’t think they do for very long, at least not in the wild. I hate that quote, which comes from anti-choicer Frederica Matthewes-Green, wife of a Greek Orthodox priest. Women aren’t raccoons. A fetus is not a leg. You’re not aborting yourself, alone and helpless. An abortion doesn’t maim you.

  11. Dana February 4, 2012 at 4:51 pm #

    “there is something not quite right with your messaging if you’re making women question the validity of their emotional responses, positive or negative”

    What was said or inferred that would invalidate a negative or positive emotional response?

    I actually walked away with the opposite message. That no matter what your emotional response, it was valid. I thought the exhale rep made that very clear. Refreshingly clear.

  12. Steph February 5, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    Hi Dana! I was referring to the moment when the woman in the audience said that listening to the Exhale rep made her feel like something was wrong with her since she didn’t regret her abortion. Of course, as Aspen said above, it speaks to what a great environment PPNYC created that women felt comfortable sharing their abortion stories. But I don’t believe that just because people share their stories, stigma is automatically eradicated. If woman A makes woman B feel bad about her emotional response to her own abortion, that’s not progress. Part of being pro-voice, to use Exhale’s terms, is respecting that everyone has a unique abortion experience. This means making sure people feel comfortable feeling whatever they feel after their abortion, including relief.

  13. Dana February 5, 2012 at 3:48 pm #

    Hi Steph,
    Thanks for your response. However it doesn’t answer the original question. What the exhale rep said about going through a negative period cannot make a persons positive emotional response “invalid”. No more the a positive emotional response make another persons negative one “invalid”. Or your quote “This means making sure people feel comfortable feeling whatever they feel after their abortion, including relief.” cannot apply. If what you are seeking is that everyone’s abortion experience is valid ONLY if it is just positive from start to finish, and I think subconsciously it is, then you might want to re visit your focus so you don’t get set up for disappointment. People suppressing their experience if it doesn’t fall into another’s ideal is not helpful or productive across the board and frankly breeds dishonesty and will thus fail. You can’t have it both ways. Either you are open to all experiences or ou aren’t. If you are only open to 100% positive, then just state that. Which leads to a side note… No one can make another person feel anything. If someone says something about their own experience that “makes me feel bad” the issue is mine not theirs. When that happens, There is something about my self esteem or pride that is causing me to seek it through other’s acceptance. That will never work. If my feelings fly around just based on what people in a room share back and forth, I’ve got deeper issues that are unresolved. I was at the panel. Because the woman with a perfect positive experience felt uncomfortable after hearing that the exhale rep had gone through a period of mixed feelings doesn’t mean it’s the panelists fault. Uncomfortable and “valid” are two totally different things. One can have valid mixed feelings. If you feel great about your abortion and then hear one woman share a mixed experience and you fly over to guilt or regret or invalid all of a sudden, you’re not being honest wih yourself. Maybe it’s a wake up call for a deeper experience. it won’t be a cake walk but it will make one stronger and more objective. Having people watch what they say and only share the parts you like will be difficult. It’s dangerously close to just writing a script and having them just read that.

  14. Steph February 5, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

    Hi Dana, I think we’re misunderstanding each other. I’m not saying that one way of feeling after an abortion is better than another. What I’m saying is that if you’re an organization that’s trying to help women cope with their feelings after abortion, you should not be in the business of making women feel bad about NOT feeling bad. Does that make sense? I don’t think the Exhale rep should have to only share positive parts of her abortion experience. But she does need to be conscious of how what she says might impact the audience in both positive and negative ways, and be ready to address that. From what I remember, she didn’t address the fact that she made someone else feel shitty. Am I misremembering?

  15. Adjoa S. Tetteh February 5, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

    Steph,

    You bring up some really important issues that I too have grappled with at times. You’re right that sometimes in an attempt to make abortion more palatable to others, we can run away from the more complicated circumstances, focus more on the other 97% of services, and emphasize the predominance of first trimester abortions, without the “And, so what?” And to those we don’t have to convince (and I’m sure others as well) it can feel that we are apologizing for it, and that in turn, certain experiences are silenced or stigmatized. At the same time, it can be complicated, because I think the concern becomes what headway is lost when we don’t make those concessions, and unfortunately, I do believe some is lost, but the question is at what cost. The answers to which, I don’t entirely know. Nevertheless, it is important that all sides are considered and we find a way to be as inclusive as possible and make genuine strides to do better when we fall short.

    I too, along with some others around me, were really put off by the animal/trap analogy, for many of the reasons you and other commenters have already mentioned. However, as organizers of the event, the tone we tried to set was one of openness, where people could share and learn without the fear of judgment or having to necessarily make things palatable. It seems we all agree that the intent behind sharing that statement was not to stigmatize. But rather, I think it was a desire to communicate that some women do feel a level of desperation and that there is intentionality behind the decision to do what’s necessary to survive, because often we have to counter the insulting perception that the decision to have an abortion is made frivolously. I do believe it was shared with consideration for the space we tried to create, perhaps thinking that one could acknowledge the diversity of circumstances and emotions that can accompany abortions and it wouldn’t compromise people’s desire to protect access to it. I think it knowingly would have been read differently in another context or perhaps not even said. That is not to say it was the most productive way to convey that point regardless of who is in the room, but just to explore more of the context.

    I also interpreted some of the comments a little differently. I thought the woman’s statement about feeling that she should regret her abortion was not necessarily a result of feeling that she was being told that she should regret it or even second-guess her feelings, but rather a natural response people can have to question themselves when confronted with an experience that does not mirror their own. I think especially considering the very stigma we’re discussing, people can expect (whether they are told to or not) that they’re supposed to have more complicated feelings about having an abortion, and when that doesn’t reflect your own feelings, that dissonance can take many shapes. And from the comments from other audience members about how we move forward after the event, it seemed that others felt that one of the take homes was that there isn’t one way to feel; these experiences are unique and can run a wide spectrum. I also didn’t really pick up on all the absolutes regarding later abortions, but I was tweeting so I may have missed a few things. Nevertheless, you are totally spot on in that we should table whatever comfort or discomfort we may have in order to provide the compassion and empathy that all should be afforded regardless of when they have an abortion.

    Despite the intention or the space we are in, we do have to be more thoughtful of how we discuss and frame the issue. Letting people speak for themselves and relying on the science seems a good way to start, but is only part of the work to be done. We can’t evolve as activists or as a collective movement if we aren’t able to look at ourselves critically and examine how we shoot ourselves in the foot (or in this case, sometimes others in the foot) whether it be by using the language of our opponents or justifying one aspect by downplaying another. So I appreciate you inspiring that kind of introspection and the insight you brought to the panel. It would have been really interesting to see this kind of discussion in that setting as well. Quelling the ways we sometimes unknowingly shine a negative light on a right we actively fight to protect is definitely an important part of demystifying abortion as well.

    And just to be said, Kaitlyn, I don’t think that you and Aspen’s points have to be mutually exclusive. In terms of making progress, there’s a role on both sides of the equation of those who share their stories and those who hear them. And I agree with Aspen, that the fact that 4 women with different experiences felt comfortable enough sharing in a public space can still be a sign of moving forward and stigma on the decline without it being the only progress that clearly needs to be made just as you said. There is undeniable power in publicly sharing one’s stories whether they be virtual or physical spaces. But that progress has be built upon so that there are less assumptions that one’s experience represents the whole and that room is made for diversity, nuance, and complexity.

  16. Angie February 5, 2012 at 7:39 pm #

    One thing that I’m wondering about is why is there a blog post on a panel that was supposedly conducted in a safe space? I have personally taken part in many safe spaces and most of those safe spaces insist on privacy/anonymity. Also, I googled safe space rules just to make sure I wasn’t mistaken but most/all safe space rules that I found included some kind of mention of privacy/anonymity….and usually something about not calling people out (especially NOT in a public setting such as this)..because they are feeling safe enough to share their thoughts and experiences. So maybe you should have addressed your concerns directly with Exhale and the doula right then and there at the panel event.

    Because this was a small panel, isn’t it possible that one could easily find who you are referring to and this could cause some issues that you didn’t mean to cause….such as possibly undermining their work? I’m not sure what doula organization you are referring to (I can guess because of the area this was held in-NY doulas?!) but I do know Exhale (also, a fairly small organization) and I would say I have a deep respect for the work both of these organizations do.

    I seriously can’t even begin to imagine what its like to be an abortion doula-aren’t they usually volunteers, as well?

    In the end, I wasn’t there but I find your article stigmatizing. I wouldn’t feel comfortable to speak about my perspectives on abortion or “come out” as someone who has had an abortion, if I thought every word and statement, I said in a “safe space” was going to be rehashed and analyzed openly on the internet. Thank goodness, I’m at a stage in my evolution as an activist and as someone who has had an abortion, that I know every “safe space” isn’t so unsafe but not everyone is so lucky. I think based on the work you and your blog do (or what I can gather) that you want more women to feel comfortable about sharing their abortion experiences but here you seem to be doing the opposite and it made me want to cringe. Eek! Please consider the damage you do by violating such agreements.

    I don’t know the exact words that were said but from what I can gather from your blog here and the comments, it also seems like some statements may have been misunderstood or taken out of context. Aside from the point, if the safe space rules agreed contained the privacy clause.

    Lastly, stigma for me is when you violate a safe space (yes, I repeated it!). Is there a special reason you are hammering on Exhale and the doula? What you have written almost seems like mainstream gotcha journalism…….this is what we as a movement and more than that, as women in a still very hostile environment towards our experiences with abortion exactly don’t need.

  17. Steph February 5, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

    Thanks for your thoughts, Angie. You raise important points. I realize I should’ve made it more clear that I support and value the work of the organizations present. I believe that you can both have deep respect for an organization and simultaneously critique them when they go astray.

    I also should’ve done a better job of keeping the jobs of the panelists anonymous. I apologize for this, and for the fact that you find my post stigmatizing. As far as the safe space thing goes, the event was open to the public and was livetweeted. I believe the rules (someone correct me if I’m not remembering correctly) were that we could talk about what happened at the panel on an ideas level. My goal was to do that by specifically discussing stigma. You’re right, I should’ve been more clear about the rules of this safe space vs. others, and what the parameters were.

    I also wish I’d addressed these issues right at the panel. Unfortunately, I didn’t, and used this space as a place to process. My intention wasn’t to hurt anyone in the process, but of course, intent isn’t the same as impact. If anyone who participated or was at the panel feels that I misrepresented them in some way, I’m happy to make changes, corrections, etc. Thanks for bringing all this up.

  18. Dana February 5, 2012 at 9:55 pm #

    Re: “I believe that you can both have deep respect for an organization and simultaneously critique them when they go astray.”
    When they go astray? Astray of what?

  19. Marty February 5, 2012 at 10:20 pm #

    Great points Angie. You’re spot on with: “I don’t know the exact words that were said but from what I can gather from your blog here and the comments, it also seems like some statements may have been misunderstood or taken out of context”.

    Bingo

    Here’s an example. Steph said:
    “The provider casually mentioned that some people pass out when they see later abortions (giving absolutely no context as to why, leaving the audience to assume the worst)”.

    Let me flash a context light accross this.
    A girl PASSED OUT in the audience (not sure if it was a blood sugar issue or what)while the provider was speaking. A mass of people hovered around her and people scurried to get cookies and juice for her while everyone else whispered back and forth waiting for the paramedics to arrive. Taking charge of the moment, the provider threw out that more or less — “this happens from time to time” and some other calming statements…. mainly in what seemed to be an effort to make the poor girl and the audience feel a little more at ease in an otherwise awkward moment. It was a very grandmotherly, lovingly attempt at comforting the group. But yes, it was later used against her…out of context… on a blog…by someone that invited her. How’s that for safe?

  20. Steph February 5, 2012 at 10:36 pm #

    Hi Dana, By “go astray,” I meant that to me, it seemed like instead of supporting women with varying abortion experiences, the rep from Exhale was alienating them. I understand if other people didn’t see this happening. Maybe I’m misinterpreting what went down. I don’t personally know the woman who shared her story in the audience, so I can’t ask her how she felt. But that is what it seemed like from my perspective.

  21. Steph February 5, 2012 at 10:42 pm #

    Hi Marty, I don’t think that particular context changes it, at least for me. The provider didn’t explain WHY people pass out, she just said that it happens all the time, and left it at that. I’m glad she was there to care for the audience member who needed her help, but she didn’t give any context as to why people might pass out when seeing abortions. It left me wanting more information, perhaps an explanation of why an abortion may or may not cause someone to pass out, what the factors that cause this are, etc, instead of leaving it up to everyone’s imaginations. I understand and respect that your perspective is different, and I ask that you respect mine as well.

    I also want to clarify that I’m not using anything “against” anyone. This post is not an attack on the character of anyone on the panel. The folks who presented are all passionate about providing compassionate reproductive health care. I’m not trying to set them up to look bad. I do, however, want to challenge some of the language they used that unintentionally stigmatized abortion. I realize I may have done this in a way that was hurtful instead of productive. I apologize for that.

  22. Barbara February 6, 2012 at 10:31 am #

    I tell people that I had an abortion for much the same reason that I tell people that I am a lesbian and that I am a Christian. Because I think people need to have their perceptions of all of those things challenged until they stop being shocking. I don’t “look like a lesbian” so I made a conscious choice not pass. I tell people I’m a Christian because I want them to know we are not all Bible-thumping bigots. I tell people I had an abortion because my hope is that they get off their high horse of what other people should do when they are confronted with an actual woman who has had an actual abortion. Sometimes, they do.

  23. Lauren February 6, 2012 at 10:33 am #

    Angie:
    I was at this event, and it was not the kind of “safe space” you are talking about. There were no safe space rules or agreements announced at the beginning of the event. If there had been, and one of those rules had been confidentiality, than Steph’s post might have violated that agreement. However, the organizers did not put these agreements into effect. Since confidentiality was not promised, a blog post critiquing the way in which the event reproduced stigma is totally appropriate. I also think Steph did a good job of keeping her post anonymous–she critiques the movement, not nec. the individuals present. The doula and the other reps on the panel should take responsibility for their statements. It’s important to question the dominant narratives activists sometimes employ, to make sure that we are not reproducing anti abortion bullshit.

    Marty:
    I interpreted the abortion provider’s actions differently. I was grateful the she jumped up to help the woman who fainted, but I thought it was inappropriate for her to attribute her fainting to the abortion description. The woman who fainted kept repeating “no, it wasn’t the abortion, sometimes this happens to me.” The provider completely ignored those statements. How irresponsible for a medical provider to dismiss a patient’s medical history and body-knowledge! And how irresponsible for an abortion provider to use the fainting to prove her point that abortion can be intense for providers. I wish that she had listened to the woman who fainted instead of reproducing the stigmatizing narrative that abortion is a damaging, overwhelming, mysterious phenomenon that causes women to go into hysterics.

  24. Angie February 7, 2012 at 11:24 am #

    My last comment on this is to Steph–surely, you recognized when you posted this blog that the scope and the critique would have a very different audience than if you had addressed these concerns with the doula and Exhale rep. This post has been widely reposted, including on Feministing, Tumblr and who knows where else….I found this out with a simple google.

    Think of your audience and your goals when posting this… what good has it done and what bad has it done.. Was it worth it? Did you achieve something? What was it?Did you make something better? Was any damage done worth it? DId you alleviate a stigma and make a more welcoming atmosphere for women (and their partners/families) who have had abortions to come out with them? Did you provide a critique that strengthened the work of the organizations whose comments you addressed? Will your comments help them do their work more effectively or did it, as I suspect, take time and energy away from their goals?

    These are my concerns…these are basic blogging and media questions. If you can answer all of these in a satisfying way-not just I believe for yourself but for your audience and women impacted by abortion-then, you’ve done a service. Its not just you that needs to be satisfied with your work when you engage in the media activism that you do, I think you have a far wider responsibility to others and a responsibility to consider some of the questions above and others.

    No idea about the “safe” space… more like unsafe space of this panel……but I hate seeing the concept being misused!

    Safe space usually involves feedback NOT critique. Many diversity and community dialogues operate in such a space because people feel more comfortable saying what they truly feel even if it is something that others may not agree with or find fault with. Participants realize the safe space is a place to work out issues-not just those of others but ones inside of themselves.

    The shame is not still having something to learn, develop or evolve in our activism, the shame is in not allowing people an environment where they feel safe to “fail” or take risks (verbally or otherwise). Sometimes people that have the most to learn (in the perspectives of others) also have a great deal to offer. Consider how you can aid in that learning and evolution, as well as what actions hamper it.

    Is ignominious critique a sure way to open the communications channels and promote change? What would an email exchange between you and these panelists (because you state that you didn’t get a chance to speak to them at the event) have achieved that this blog did not?

  25. Tara February 7, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

    I think it’s really unfortunate that this post ended up generating so much ire against Steph, so much that the comments and ire have all but ended up burying the point – which was to highlight the stigma and tone that abortion gets wrapped in even within the pro-choice/pro-abortion realm.

    I tried in a previous post (although in a way less articulate, substantive fashion than Steph’s post here) to cast some light on my impression that abortion stigma has crept quietly into the most liberal/progressive folks and realms – only to have gotten excoriated for/about points I wasn’t actually making – including an assertion that I was calling for all abnormal embryos/fetuses to be aborted.

    C’mon people – really, is it so hard to grow a little humility and be able to take some constructive criticism within our movement? To just hear and listen and take in some well-intentioned (not to mention damn well-informed) assertions of frank honesty about how s/thing you’re doing is impacting others?

    Even when feelings get stubbed, why the need to go so defensive and into attack-mode when responding to a post like this? Steph wasn’t attacking or violating safe-space – she was expressing frustration about abortion stigma, and frankly there are a hell of a lot of us out there/here who agree with her.

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