end the stigma.

Quick Hit: Can storytelling help destroy abortion stigma?

One of the first posts I ever wrote as a baby blogger — on Feministing’s Community site — was about talking about my abortion. Ever since, as regular readers know, I’ve been interested in abortion stigma and the power of storytelling to combat it. I’ve got a new piece over at Pacific Standard today diving into the research and exploring the great potential and limitations of sharing our stories. 

In the more than five years since I wrote that post, we have certainly been talking more. We’ve blogged, hashtagged, live-tweeted, filmed, and uploaded our abortion stories. Last year alone, multiple state legislators, hip-hop star Nicki Minaj, and dozens of ordinary women spoke out about their experiences ending a pregnancy—everywhere from the Guardian to Glamour. The 1 in 3 Campaign held the first-ever online abortion speak-out, an eight-hour affair in which more than 100 people participated. And as 2014 came to a close, the “pro-voice” organization Exhale hailed it as “the year of the abortion story.”

While people have many different reasons for sharing their abortion experiences—publicly and privately—much of the online storytelling in recent years has been motivated by a hope that it will both help de-stigmatize what is a very common procedure and, ultimately, lead to more widespread support for abortion rights. It’s a hope that got a small boost just last week when Representative Tim Ryan announced that, after 14 years in office as an anti-choice Democrat, his thinking has changed. “I have sat with women from Ohio and across the nation and heard them talk about their varying experiences: abusive relationships, financial hardship, health scares, rape and incest,” he wrote in an op-ed in the Akron Beacon Journal. “These women gave me a better understanding of how complex and difficult certain situations can become.”

Meanwhile, a parallel interest in abortion stigma has taken off in the social science realm. Though it is still an under-theorized and under-studied topic, the emerging research provides reason for optimism about the recent increase in public abortion storytelling. But experts also warn that abortion stigma—the shared cultural understanding that the procedure is socially unacceptable—is a tricky nut to crack; dismantling it will likely require a long-term, multi-pronged effort. And, even then, ending stigma probably won’t fix everything that keeps abortion “inaccessible to many women, and constantly under threat.”

Read the rest here.


St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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