Newest Tactic to 'Destigmatize' Abortion: Mimic Pro-Lifers’ Testimonials

By Tatiana Lozano | August 7, 2014 | 9:56am EDT


Ashley Sigrest of Brandon, Miss. demonstrates in support of stricter state laws regulating abortion. (AP File photo)

( - Abortion rights groups like Not Alone and the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) are increasingly turning to the pro-life playbook by encouraging women who have had abortions to give public testimonies in order to "destigmatize" the procedure.

This comes as 46 percent of Americans now identify as pro-life, according to a Gallup poll in May, which is a 13-point increase since 1995.

While smaller pro-choice websites such as ”I’m Not Sorry” have existed since 2003, such tactics have become more prominent with movements like Not Alone and the online posts of abortion advocates Emily Letts and Salon’s Jenny Kutner this summer.

The Huffington Post hosted a live panel discussion Tuesday entitled “How Can We Get Rid of the Abortion Stigma?” with panelists, including Letts and Kutner, discussing the fact that “women still associated [having an abortion] with shame.”

Letts claimed that she uploaded a video of her abortion in May because “no one actually knows what [abortion] looks like….There’s all of this misinformation floating around and used as a way of scare tactics in order for, you know, pro-lifers to, you know, force women to do things that they want them to do.”

“But the thing is, we just need to make sure that everyone knows that there is support, that they are okay, and they are strong,” Letts added. “They do not have to be afraid of their choices. And so, like, saying that there should be shame really doesn’t get us anywhere….”

Sherry Merfish, who founded Not Alone after she told her abortion story, said that “the idea is that once you know someone -- ‘wait a minute, that person can be you’ -- and you are telling about your story for the first time, that changes the conversation dramatically.”

“We [women] don’t have the luxury of keeping our private decisions private anymore because they are under assault,” Merfish continued. “Our rights are being rolled back. Our silence and our hesitance is not acting in our favor.”

Other activists blamed stricter state laws for stigmatizing abortion and the women who have had them.

“Abortion is stigmatized in part because politicians in state houses throughout the country have restricted it so much,” said Kelly Baden, CRR’s policy and advocacy advisor. “And then those restrictions play into the abortion stigma and compound that even further."

"So, we’re really in this cycle that we need to break, and I think the way that other fellow guests on this panel are doing it is really the way to go, by sharing your story, and by talking about it, and having conversations everywhere....” Baden added.

But Georgette Forney, co-founder of Silent No More Awareness, a pro-life group, told CNSNews Wednesday that the panel was “basically mimicking what we’ve been doing for 12 years.”

“We need to give women permission to talk about something that is personal, painful, and creates a great deal of shame….The fact that they’ve got a panel and they’re acknowledging that we need to talk about it is, to me, very positive,” she noted.

“The problem that they have with their efforts is that what they’re saying is, ‘If your story isn’t about celebrating about your abortion, we don’t want to hear it.’”

Forney, who once had an abortion herself, was also skeptical of efforts to “destigmatize” a procedure she says is inherently traumatic for women.

“No matter how much I want to destigmatize something, I can’t because it’s actually an interior conflict….I’ve done that inside of me,” she said.

“So, I think it’s a fascinating thing that they want to, like, ‘We want to destigmatize abortion. Therefore, we wave a magic wand, and everybody who feels that it’s a stigma, we’re not going to feel that way anymore.’ Well, it just doesn’t work that way.”

“I don’t think you can destigmatize abortion. I think what you have to do is to allow women to recover from it. It’s a trauma,” Forney continued.

“I just think that we’re trying to make these things way too easy, and they’re much more complicated. And you can’t wipe guilt out by putting a bumper sticker on it….Human beings are complicated agents. And we need to start recognizing that.”

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