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Posts Tagged ‘Abortion’

Exhale partnered with MTV on their groundbreaking special “No Easy Decision” which gave three young women  – Markai, Natalia and Katie – the opportunity to tell their own story with abortion, in their own words.  Our “16 & Loved” campaign, launched in conjunction with the special, gave everyone the opportunity to express their love to Markai, Natalia and Katie to  let them know they are not alone.  They are loved.

The special and our campaign were covered extensively in the media and the blogosphere, successfully creating new public conversations about the need to support and respect each person’s unique experience with abortion.   Our pivotal role in this television milestone and the challenge of being Pro-Voice in a pro-choice/pro-life world were reported on in The New York Times.

Exhale’s own speakers bureau member, Mayah Frank, wrote about her own experience of abortion and what the special means to her on Care2Causes.  Read her blog post:  “MTV’s 16 and Pregnant Takes on Abortion: One Reason Why.”

Here is a roundup of articles featuring “No Easy Decision,” and our “16 & Loved” Campaign:

Lynn Harris, Salon.com: “MTV’s Shockingly Good Abortion Special.”

Circling the wagons against nasty backlash, nonpartisan post-abortion support talkline Exhale, who partnered with MTV on the show, had already planned an online campaign called “16 and Loved” to act as sort of virtual clinic escorts for the young women outing themselves.

Shelby Knox, ShelbyKnox.com: “MTV’s Abortion Show Was…Actually Good.”

Also exceptional was the online space created by Exhale, a multi-lingual after abortion counseling talkline, called 16 and Loved. The site’s sole purpose is to support Markai, Katie, and Natalia and other young women who’ve chosen abortion. Exhale got ahead of the inevitable anti-choice shenanigans and focused most of the conversation online, especially on Twitter during the special, toward loving and accepting the young women rather than arguing the politics of abortion rights.

Of course, the real sheroes of No Easy Decision are Markai, Katie and Natalia. Because of their courage, young women who saw or see the show who’ve had abortions know that they’re not alone and they don’t have to be ashamed.

Jessica Valenti, JessicaValenti.com: “MTV’s abortion special treats issue with compassion, facts.”

Amanda Marcotte, RH Reality Cast (podcast): “Aggressive Women, Rape Myths, And Abortion Realities”

Roxann MtJoy, Change.org: “MTV to Air Special on Teen Abortion Tonight”

MTV is partnering with Exhale, an after-abortion counseling talkline, to make sure that this sensitive subject matter is handled right. Exhale wants to make sure that those brave girls who shared their stories feel loved and supported. To that end, they have launched a major social media campaign called 16 & Loved, and there are plenty of ways for you to get involved.

Linda Lowen, About.com: “MTV’s No Easy Decision Follows Teens Who Choose Abortion”

Knowing that the girls featured on the special will be bombarded with hate after their stories air, the website 16 and Loved is already up and running to provide messages of unconditional love and support to the three girls who are featured in No Easy Decision. The site offers readers a chance to post their own stories about abortion and leave comments for the girls to let them know that going public with their decision is a courageous act.

The driving force behind the site is Exhale, a nonprofit organization that provides a nonjudgmental national, multilingual after-abortion talkline and trained peer counselors.

Sean Daly, NYPost: “MTV Follows ‘Teen Mom’ Who Chose Abortion in Controversial New Show” and “16 & Pregnant Abort Show Furor”

Luchina Fisher, ABCNews.com: “MTV Airing Teen Abortion Special, ‘No Easy Decision’”

To find the young women for the special, MTV partnered with Exhale, an after-abortion counseling hotline …that takes an apolitical or “pro-voice” approach that “honors and respects each person’s unique experience with abortion,” according to volunteer Erika Jackson.

Exhale launched its “16 and Loved”website to support the young women who will tell their stories next week, as well as women who find the stories resonate with them. The group has been posting messages of support to the women on the special and will be live blogging during the program.

“My grand vision is that everyone who has had an abortion or is in the middle of the decision-making process will know that she’s not alone,” Jackson told ABCNews.com.

Bianca Laureno, Latino Sexuality: “No Easy Decision/16 & Loved: MTVs Airing of Teen Stories About Abortion” and “Reflecting On “No Easy Decision”

I’m not a huge fan of the “speak outs” especially when connected to abortion, personally. Part of this stems from seeing people who are not prepared to hear those testimonios respond to them, youth thinking they are expected to share when they are not prepared or ready to do so, and the somewhat voyeuristic space that may be created. However, I have not ever spoken out against these spaces existing, or the importance and need they fill for many people. Any way for such healing and consciousness-raising to occur is essential. There is enough space for all of us to heal and build together.

Vanessa Valenti, Feministing: “MTV’s “16 and Pregnant” to air special on abortion tomorrow”

Samhita Mukhopadhyay, Feministing: “On MTV’s special, “No Easy Decision.”

Beth Saunders, RH Reality Check: “Morning Roundup: Alaska, Wisconsin, and 16 and Loved”

Kelsey Wallace, Bitch: “Love for the Women of MTV’s “No Easy Decision”

Barbara Glickstein, WBAI Healthstyles (MP3)

Jill Fillipovic, Feministe: “16 & Loved”

I’m sure the show will be controversial (and Dr. Drew is the worst, so that part concerns me). I’m also sure that the young women who have abortions will not be warmly received by many members of the “pro-life” community.

Which is why I’m glad that Exhale is doing a “16 & Loved” campaign to support these (and all) women who terminate pregnancies. It’s important for women to know that no matter what their story and what reproductive choices they make, they are supported.

Irin Carmon, Jezebel: “MTV Airing Teen Abortion Special”

LATimes Show Tracker: “How groundbreaking was MTV’s abortion special?”

But Pinsky earned raves from abortion rights advocates, as did MTV’s decision to partner with Exhale, a “pro-voice” counseling service for women who’ve had abortions.

Sarah Seltzer, The Washington Post: “MTV’s ’16 and Pregnant’ exploits teen moms but addresses abortion with dignity”

BostonHerald.com: “MTV Abortion Special: No Easy Decision”

Steph Herold, AbortionGang: “16 and Loved: Supporting Women Who Have Had Abortions”

Jamia Wilson, Womens Media Center: “MTV Abortion Special “No Easy Decision” Addresses Abortion with Compassionate Integrity”

I appreciate MTV’s portrayal of the three women on the show, presenting them authentically without promoting stereotypes as they often do in other reality shows. I loved their positive depiction of an African American/Multiracial family, their engagement with spirituality, and their portrayal of women with families and partners who were loving, supportive, and respectful of each woman’s choice.

We don’t often hear these stories and I am glad they gave air time to Natalia, Markai, and Katie’s realities. When Katie, explained that she made a “parenting decision” by making the choice to end her pregnancy, I regarded the concept of choice with a more enlightened perspective. I am proud of these young women for living their truth.

Jennifer Pozner, Reality Bites Back: “Viewers Guide to MTV Abortion Special: Send young women your love but give Dr. Drew the sideeye” and “Liveblogging ’16 & Pregnant’ Reunion Show and MTV abortion special No Easy Decision”

I’m pleasantly surprised: the framing of Markai’s abortion experience has been respectful, and seemingly true to her authentic reactions during pregnancy, through her decision-making process with her boyfriend, mother and friend, and finally in the aftermath of how she has been coping with the choice she made. She seems resigned to knowing it was the right decision, but feeling doubt and sadness that this choice was necessary — which, of course, is how a great many women feel when they find themselves having to terminate an unexpected pregnancy. I knew it was possible that MTV could produce a reality special that handled abortion with nuance, respect and authenticity. But having documented ten years of reality TV manipulations, misrepresentations and regressive anti-feminist backlash for my book, Reality Bites Back, I was skeptical that they would really want to do so, or know how to do so even if the good intentions were there. So far, at least for this first 1/3 of the special, I’m really glad that my concerns have been misplaced…

Dr. Drew ended the special encouraging those who have had abortions to visit Exhale’s website if they need support. Unfortunately, the special never mentioned “16 and Loved,” the Exhale-led companion campaign to this special aimed at showering Markai, Katie (and the other teen whose name I didn’t catch) with support and love, which I blogged about earlier. Was this a perfect special? No. Did it cover all the reasons young women have abortions? No. But it was far more honest, and allowed far more authenticity of girls’ experiences, than I expected. And my biggest surprise: Dr. Drew wasn’t the moralizing, judgmental, faux-sincere jerk he has often been on his other MTV shows, Celebrity Rehab, Sex Rehab, and Sober House.


Thank you to every person who participated in conversations about the need to support and respect each woman’s unique experience with abortion, whether she shares her story in private on our talkline or in public on MTV.  Every woman deserves the opportunity to feel heard, understood, supported and respected.  And, most of all, loved.

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Watch the first Pro-Voice show on MTV

Exhale has partnered with MTV, home of the the popular “16 & Pregnant” series, as it ventures into new territory with a special that features young women telling their abortion stories.  The special will promote the Exhale web site and will encourage viewers to reach out and talk with someone about their abortion.

16 & Pregnant

Watch: “No Easy Decision” on MTV
December 28th, at 11:30 p.m. East Coast Time, directly after the reunion show of 16 & Pregnant.
(Check local listings)

Announcing Exhale’s  “16 & Loved”! campaign:

Several courageous young women – including a previous “16 & Pregnant” subject, Markai – will be featured on MTV’s special telling their personal story with abortion. They’re doing their part to let other young women know: “you are not alone. I’ve been there too.

Now, it’s time to do our part.  We need to make sure these brave young women feel our unconditional love and our support.

With your help, we are launching a major social media campaign to send our love to the guests of the special.

(more…)

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*Guest Post by Board Member, Julie Davidson-Gómez*

Leading Exhale’s year-end fundraising effort is a lot like having magical x-ray goggles. From my vantage point, I get to see the inner workings of our campaign in amazing and intricate detail. Every day, I witness the little victories and milestones that occur when a volunteer steps out of their comfort zone and reaches out to you to connect, share, and inspire.

Joining the fundraising team requires a big step, and sometimes a leap of faith, toward connecting our individual stories and beliefs to a larger organizational vision: that of a thriving pro-voice movement, financially supported by women and men who care just as much about post-abortion wellbeing, and who share our dreams for a future free from abortion stigma. (more…)

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*Guest Blogger*

Nat Okey, Exhale Volunteer:

Aspen Baker recently wrote, “Transforming hearts and minds is not the job of our government and abortion stigma is not reduced through elections.  Changing culture requires people.  It takes you and me.  Our friends and family.  Our neighbors and co-workers.”

It also takes Exhale volunteers.  As volunteer counselors we create safe and sacred spaces where women and men create their own personal narratives about their abortion experience.  When we volunteer, we commit to hearing every caller’s story, to be with people who are struggling, and to validate their feelings and help them to see and recognize their own inner strengths.  Though we are volunteers, our work is neither easy nor free. (more…)

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Kate Cockrill, a researcher who studies stigma and abortion at UCSF, recently wrote about her attendance at the Princeton Open Hearts/Open Minds conference on the blog of ANSIRH (a Pro-Voice High-Five Awardee for New Research).   In contemplating the lack of women’s voices at the conference, Kate poses some good questions about the role of women who have had abortions in public discussion.  She writes:

If 1.3 million women have an abortion every year, then why is it that so few women speak publicly or even privately about their abortions? What would happen if women began to speak up? How would it change the debate? I think that it is safe to say that the prochoice movement is a movement for women who are considering abortions or need abortions. It is a legal movement oriented toward preserving the right to abortion.

Addressing the role of stigma in women’s silence, Kate writes:

Stigma is clearly a major culprit in women’s public silence about their abortions. To talk about one’s abortion publicly is to risk losing credibility on a variety of levels. But there are many other reasons that women don’t talk publicly about their abortions. Maybe the reason for their own abortion is not the reason they are attempting to highlight in their advocacy. Maybe they don’t want to upset a family member or ex-partner who might be sensitive to their decision. Maybe it feels like a private experience that they don’t want to explore publicly at that moment. Maybe it still feels raw. Maybe it just doesn’t feel salient anymore.

No matter the reason, speaking about a personal abortion experience publicly means taking on personal risk. Instead of asking where the voices are, we could work harder to reduce the risk that women incur when they speak from their own experience. We can and should be demonstrating and demanding nonjudgmental listening. We should encourage honesty and should support a range of experiences. We should not discriminate against some experiences while highlighting others. We should support private spaces for women to discuss their experiences with those who can listen and understand, better yet, people who have also “been there.” We should demand that all women have access to emotional care at the time of their abortion and after. In fact, I would argue that when these demands are absent from our advocacy, we aren’t really advocating for women who have had abortions.

Women who have abortions do not live in a world of nonjudgmental support. When their own abortion is at issue they can expect judgment, criticism and rejection.  So many women are very careful about who they share their experience with or who they seek support from. In fact if you do not personally know someone who has had an abortion, it’s most likely because you are not considered a safe person to tell. While politically-motivated public and private disclosure is encouraged by both sides of the debate, the real stories of real women are not adequately supported by either side of the public debate.  So, when women don’t come forward with their stories…we have to wonder if we’re partly to blame.

In relating how she experienced the conference, Kate summarizes:

Conversations like the ones I had at OHOM may not bring us any closer to common ground on the abortion issue; however, I think they do promote a common culture based on values that can be shared by either side. Curiosity. Dignity. Respect. Peace.

Thank you Kate!

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Earlier, this year, Exhale formed a partnership with our Pro-Voice High-Five awardee for Leadershipthe Center for Digital Storytelling – to pilot a workshop where women could create their own digital stories about having had an abortion and being an abortion listener.  Through this workshop, we learned a lot about the role stigma plays in public storysharing, what it means to ask women to tell their abortion stories, as well as for an audience to listen to stories, and the experience of sharing personal abortion stories.

As part of our ongoing learning process about public abortion story-sharing, we took the stories on the road last week and showed them to a new audience.  The Abortion Access Project invited us to share our stories with advocates and providers in Seattle.  Exhale leaders, including me, our Director of Programs, Jovida Ross; Board Member Julie Davdison-Gomez, and Pro-Voice Ambassador Erika Jackson, had an engaging discussion about the process of creating the stories, and our collective ideas for what we can all do to promote respectful forums for storysharing.

We asked the audience to record their responses as they watched each digital story.  Here is just a sampling of the dozens of responses we received:

  • “Reminded me how much abortion is interwoven into so many other stories.  It’s not just about the abortion.”
  • “Made me think about what we gain by being a part of other women’s abortion experiences.”
  • “The story exemplifies the duality of regret and relief and transforms it into something new.”
  • “It is always such a good reminder that the most powerful thing we can do for someone is to let them be with their feelings whatever they are.”
  • “Inspired.  I related to her story.”

Jovida Ross introduces the stories:

Erika Jackson shares her experience of making the story while I listen:

Erika, Jovida, Deb from AAP, and me afterwards:

Thank you for hosting us Seattle!  We had a great time and learned a lot.

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*Guest Blogger*

Nat Okey, Exhale Volunteer:

The recent media attention over the Twitter thread, “#ihadanabortion”, reveals the deep difference between online networking and social change.  I hope that every woman who tweeted about her abortion found the experience to be a positive one, and yet in order to have a lasting effect on the abortion debate, the campaign must be connected to a broader culture change agenda.

Recently, best-selling author and cultural commentator, Malcolm Gladwell, wrote in the New Yorker magazine about the difference between the weak ties of social networking and the strong ties needed for social change. He makes his point that people take on great personal risks, like violence or death, in order to change culture because of strong ties, with examples of the early lunch counter sit-ins and the Freedom Summer campaign. On the other hand, weak social ties, like the kind we have with people on Facebook or Twitter, don’t give us what is really needed to face our own fears and the real risks to our lives or livelihoods.

The problem of weak social ties played out with #ihadanabortion, as it quickly became politicized and was used as another culture war proxy.  The thread digressed to include pleas for people to go sign a Planned Parenthood petition, amongst many other things.   You can’t have a transformative conversation, which is necessary to change the debate, in 140 characters or less with anonymous strangers with constant tangents being introduced.  The multitudes of nuance that the abortion debate contains and which must be respected can not be adequately addressed by tweeting.

Instead of trying to speak to the masses one tweet at a time, we should focus on supporting women who have had abortions, as it is their relationships with their own friends and family that will prove the tipping point to cultural change. When people have strong personal ties to you, they will view an issue differently if it affects you. Where once something was unacceptable, through their prism of you they can see and feel the issue differently.

Sociologists Robert Putnam and David Campbell describe this in their new book, American Grace.  In a recent review in the New York Times, Robert Wright discusses this effect in regards to LGBT people in the U.S. and how our society has become much more accepting with relative quickness:

Putnam and Campbell favor the “bridging” model. The idea is that tolerance is largely a question of getting to know people. If, say, your work brings you in touch with gay people or Muslims — and especially if your relationship with them is collaborative — this can brighten your attitude toward the whole tribe they’re part of. And if this broader tolerance requires ignoring or reinterpreting certain scriptures, so be it; the meaning of scripture is shaped by social relations.

The bridging model explains how attitudes toward gays could have made such rapid progress. A few decades ago, people all over America knew and liked gay people — they just didn’t realize these people were gay. So by the time gays started coming out of the closet, the bridge had already been built.

And once straight Americans followed the bridge’s logic — once they, having already accepted people who turned out to be gay, accepted gayness itself — more gay people felt comfortable coming out. And the more openly gay people there were, the more straight people there were who realized they had gay friends, and so on: a virtuous circle.

Once people realize that their co-workers, partners, friends and family members have had abortions, we can develop our own Pro-Voice virtuous circle.

This kind of bridge-building work won’t happen through Twitter.  As Gladwell writes, online social networking is

a form of organizing which favors the weak-tie connections… It makes it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have any impact.”

A Twitter campaign alone will not de-stigmatize abortion.  We need to build more bridges and foster more strong ties.  This approach can give us a world where all the women who’ve had an abortion can speak freely about their experiences, and a world where the rest of us can see abortion less as a political issue to be debated and more about abortion as an experience lived by a woman we love.

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Last week, Steph Herold, the pro-choice activist behind IAmDr.Tiller launched a Twitter campaign to get women to come out about their abortions, using #ihadanabortion. Emily Douglas at The Nation invited us both to exchange our thoughts and ideas about the role of public abortion storytelling for changing the debate.

Read our exchange: “I Had An Abortion” in 140 Characters or Less: An Exchange with Steph Herold and Aspen Baker.

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*Guest Post by Pro-Voice High-Five Awardee for New Thinking: Eyal Rabinovitch*

“Do you find most public discourse on abortion painful?” This was the opening question on the invitation to the recent two-day “Open Hearts/Open Minds” conference that invited pro-life and pro-choice advocates and scholars to Princeton University to be in respectful and open conversation with one another. Several months earlier, I had offered my personal answer (“yes… very”) to that question in the form of a essay on an organization called Exhale and the pro-voice approach to abortion it’s been championing in recent years.

In an entrenched social conflict like abortion, I argued, the extreme polarization and bitterness of the conflict is more than painful – it’s downright destructive. Let me offer just a few examples here. For starters, people who have something to say that don’t fit into the points of view of those two sides are drowned out and neglected. Voices of complexity, moderation, or conciliation – including the voices of people dealing directly with abortion in their lives – are not tolerated, leaving out whatever contributions they might have to make toward better policies or greater understanding. Beyond that, the increasing polarization prevents both activists and policy makers from listening to one another’s actual arguments, understanding one another’s concerns, or working together collaboratively on points of mutual interest. At the same time, the public at large increasingly gets turned off by waves of demonizing rhetoric and oversimplifications. Sick of hearing the same angry conversation over and over again, people tune out and stop engaging in a social issue of great importance.

By contrast, a pro-voice approach argues for rooting our public conversation in the full complexity of people’s actual experiences with abortion rather than the caricatures and one-dimensional language that dominates the public conversation. A pro-voice orientation emphasizes creating space for people to share and listen to one another’s experiences with abortion not as a way to create ammunition for one ideological side or the other, but to rehumanize, revatilize, and de-polarize this crucial and profound social issue. As a student and practitioner of conflict transformation – a subfield of conflict studies focused on changing how we engage in our disagreements so that we can advocate for our values without destroying our own dignity or the dignity of those with whom we disagree – I embrace Exhale’s pro-voice vision and believe it can play a foundational role on a long-term path towards meaningful, restorative culture change on abortion.

(more…)

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In celebration of our 5th Anniversary of expanded service, Exhale presented a very special award – our “Pro-Voice High-Five” – to five individuals and organizations who have made significant contributions to creating a more supportive and respectful social climate for women who have had abortions.  You can read all about the awardees here.

We celebrated our anniversary and all the awardees in an intimate San Francisco ceremony at the end of August.

Here’s a glimpse:

Board President Jen Rudy celebrates the announcement of fellow board member Julie Davidson-Gomez that we have surpassed our summer fundraising goal!

Tracy Weitz and Kate Cockrill from ANSIRH celebrate their award for New Research with a High-Five!

Amy Hill from the Center for Digital Storytelling celebrates her award for Leadership with Julie.

Julie Evans accepts the award for Courage from Jen in honor of all women who have told their abortion story.

Exhale Friends

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