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Posts Tagged ‘Pro-Voice Ambassador’

Kassi Underwood, a Pro-Voice Ambassador, has written about her personal experience with abortion in two major newspapers this year.   As a community of people with personal abortion experiences, we stand beside Kassi and provide her with our unconditional love and support.   We look forward to reading her memoir about her search for post-abortion therapies.

On Monday, May 2, 2011 in the New York Daily News, Kassi wrote in “Get Your Politics Off My Grief”:

Contorting rich experiences and complex emotions into partisan slogans shames women who do not “feel” within their political lines, separating us into distinct, sometimes-opposing groups that struggle to relate to one another. Pro-voice is an antidote to the alienating ills of America’s abortion culture.

Here’s a right I’d march for: the right to wail myself to sleep, to yearn for my long gone baby, yet to know that I needed to delay parenthood. Transcending heartache is possible as long as I keep my story unabridged – and out of the political sphere.

On July 28, 2011, Kassi went further, sharing more details about her experience with abortion in the Modern Love column of the New York TimesKassi shared in “A Lost Child, But Not Mine”:

With sobriety and a salary, I couldn’t stop thinking about the baby that wasn’t, a loss somehow made more painful by his baby that was. I spent my workdays browsing photos of his little girl, believing in some twisted respect that I was glimpsing the face of the child I could have had. On lunch breaks, I went home to cry in bed, longing for a paranormal miracle.

By the time I called him, his daughter was about to celebrate her first birthday. He was living at a halfway house in Boston, where my company was flying me for a conference. I harbored a secret motive to find out if he dwelled on the loss as much as I did, so I asked him if he would meet me….

THE heat of summer hung down on our shoulders when we hugged on the bustling street corner. As we parted, I walked up Gloucester Street toward the conference center; he headed toward the pickup truck he’d borrowed from a friend at the halfway house.

In the three years since, he has spent much of his time incarcerated for drug-related offenses. I wish I could share my sobriety, my degree and my career to rent that apartment for his little girl, but reality has finally sunk in: the abortion is mine alone, just like Jade is his.

These two articles demonstrate how each person’s story with abortion has multiple layers, with diverse ways to share about such an intimate experience.   Show your support to Kassi and follow her on twitter: @KassiUnderwood.

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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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*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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Exhale is proud to honor Susan Lehman with the 2010 Rachel Falls Compassion Award.

In her time with Exhale, Susan has served as a talkline counselor, online community moderator and a Pro-Voice Ambassador.  Susan is a well-respected counselor whose peers use terms like “warm heart” and “unflagging compassion” to describe her mentorship and contributions to our callers, and the greater Pro-Voice community.  I have been inspired by Susan’s thoughtfulness and commitment to everything she puts her minds to and I am honored for the opportunity to work beside her at Exhale.

The Rachel Falls Compassion Award was created in 2008 to honor a very dear friend and ally of Exhale: Rachel Falls. The Hotline Director at the National Abortion Federation, Rachel passed away after a long battle with brain cancer. Rachel was a true pro-voice champion: she integrated post-abortion counseling into NAF’s services, collaborated with Exhale staff to train others in the field, and became a vocal advocate for promoting the emotional wellbeing of women who have had abortions. The award is given once a year to a talkline counselor who best embodies the spirit and values of Rachel Falls: exuberance, strength, empathy, commitment, vision, and compassion. Only fellow talkline counselors can nominate the potential winner.   Past awardees include Elsa Valmidiano, who you can read about in our zine (pg.7), and Jan.

In honor of her award, I sat down with Susan to ask her a few questions about her experience with Exhale as a volunteer. Here is what she said.

What first brought you to Exhale?

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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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Exhale Board Member, Julie Davidson-Gomez, was honored to be invited to present on the plenary panel for Next Generation Organization’s at CompassPoint’s Nonprofit Day in San Francisco on August 31, 2010.

Watch the video to find out Julie’s big confession!

(more…)

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