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Posts Tagged ‘Story’

Exhale is a community of people with personal abortion experiences and when it comes to storysharing, we advocate that:  1) women who have had abortions must have the ability to control their own narratives in our public discourse; and 2) that we must have authority and decision-making over when and how our stories are used by advocates.

Thaler Pekar has been writing about the ethical sharing of stories in a series of blog posts; and her insights offer critical thinking for our community members and the advocates who seek to have access to our stories.

In a two-part series in PhilanTopic, Thaler outlines the concept of Ethical StorySharing, in Part 1:

Because stories are powerful, and because they are wholly owned by the person who shares them, we have an ethical obligation to use story in ways that do no harm. Whether we are asking for stories to better understand an organizational challenge, to use in our organizational communications, or for an advocacy campaign, our goal should be to empower, not exploit…

The need to refrain from treating story as a commodity goes beyond nonprofit and advocacy work; it should inform all your work with narrative. True narrative intelligence respects the sharer of the story and recognizes that his or her story is a unique part of them that cannot, and should not, be taken and shared without permission.

In Ethical StorySharing, Part 2, Thaler gives more advice to advocates who seek to work with stories:

Thinking about the stories you’re not hearing is critical to the ethical use of story. Do you have a responsibility to seek them out? Also, do you plan to label and publicly present the stories you do gather? And if so, how will the context affect the way the audience perceives those stories?…

Or you may be working with a stigmatized population, in which case you have a special responsibility to protect the sharer of the story. For example, you have an ethical obligation to share any knowledge you may have about what could happen to the person, personally or professionally, if they decide to share their story. Might you need to provide for the person’s safety? Does the person sharing his or her story understand how s/he could lose control over the context in which the story is shared, especially in super-public places like YouTube?

In “Working with Stories,” on the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Thaler writes about the concept of empathetic engagement, first described by Sam Gregory of WITNESS:

Develop and engage a keen sense of empathy. Consider what people physically and emotionally need in order to share their stories. Make certain that people are in no way coerced into sharing a story, and explore and protect against any possibilities that the teller may be stigmatized, or even harmed, because he or she has shared a story.

Remember that each individual wholly owns his or her stories. Personal stories are not commodities, to be taken from one person and given to another, in exchange for reimbursement of some sort…Remember, too, that the audience is a partner in the story sharing. Create conditions favorable to the listener fully receiving and making sense of the story.

Understand that story begets story. Story is a contagion: By sharing a story, you will elicit stories in response. Keep this in mind, creating both the time and physical requirements that respect and enable a flow of stories.

In order to hear the real range of people’s complex experiences and emotions, you must avoid communicating that only certain stories are acceptable, welcome, and valued.  If you are too descriptive about the types of stories you want to hear, you may not hear anything at all.

Sagely, Thaler writes:

Refrain from starting a narrative project with a predetermined sense of the stories you will hear. When stories are elicited with honesty and benevolence (and they must be!), you will most likely be surprised, delighted, and frightened by what you hear. Commit yourself to the journey, not to the product.

Finally, in “Pro-Voice and Pro-Chaos” in PhilanTopic, Thaler describes how Pro-Voice is inherently a practice of Ethical StorySharing:

Being “pro-voice” means being anti-predetermined story. The people who work with and support Exhale understand that embracing reality is the only authentic choice for those advocating for sustainable conflict resolution and a more peaceful social climate. Imagine if more advocates let go of their fear of being surprised, contradicted, or losing control and looked to solicit and share stories that didn’t necessarily fit predetermined agendas. In their representation of the complexity of reality, the resulting stories might appear to be chaotic. But the odds are excellent that out of that chaos, profound insight would follow.

To learn more about Thaler and her thinking on Ethical StorySharing, follow her on Twitter: @thaler.

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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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Jovida Ross

By Jovida Ross, Exhale’s Director of Programs

I first came out as Queer when I was 17. At first I told a few close friends; when that went OK I told more people. Then I was out socially. I told my parents; moved in with a girlfriend for the first time; and eventually I became a leader in an LGBTQ organization.

Each of those steps brought a new coming out process: mustering my courage, taking the risk to speak my truth without knowing what response I would get, and living with the consequences. I’m fortunate that my experience has been overwhelmingly positive, with very few instances of shaming or overt discrimination.

Yet still, every time I find myself in a context where people assume I am straight, I face the question of whether I should come out yet again.

As ESPN contributor Mary Buckheit recently told NPR:

Most people think of a person’s coming out as one momentous day, or one unnerving phone call home, or one blurted sentence, even. But the truth is you come out a thousand times. (more…)

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On Sunday, April 10th, MTV Canada aired a special called “Impact: Abortion Stories.” Unlike the panel interview structure and accompanying reality-show style telling of Markai’s experience in “No Easy Decision,” the Canadian special included interviews with people representing a variety of perspectives on abortion. Part of a comprehensive “Impact” series, which includes shows on other topics ranging from Haiti to bullying, “Abortion Stories” included first person interviews with women describing personal abortion experiences; and others representing a range of views.

Nicole Miller is one of the women who shared her personal abortion story in Canada’s special, and she agreed to talk to Exhale about abortion wellbeing and storysharing. As we conclude our 2nd annual commemoration of Abortion Wellbeing Month, we hope that Nicole and all women who have shared their stories in ways from private to public will feel supported, respected and well!

Exhale: What does “abortion wellbeing” mean to you?

Nicole: Abortion wellbeing to me means many things. It’s not a particular place or state of mind, as much as an inner feeling of peace. It means to be completely honest and open not only with others, but with yourself.

To say I have never felt conflicting emotions because of my abortion would be a blatant lie. However, deep in my soul I know that I absolutely made the right decision, despite what anyone says or thinks or does and that is the most important aspect of my wellbeing.

Exhale: How did you decide to share your story? What role has sharing in such a public way played in your post abortion well being?
(more…)

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This April, we are celebrating abortion wellbeing. With this month we raise awareness that the spectrum of personal abortion experiences traverses a wide range of emotions, which can include joy and relief alongside feelings of sadness and loss.  We celebrate the ability of each woman to be well along this spectrum, including every woman who feels regret, pain or grief. These emotional responses to abortion, like all feelings after abortion, deserve the opportunity to be heard, understood and supported.

Exhale’s “16 & Loved” campaign to support Markai, Katie and Natalia, (who shared their personal abortion stories on MTV’s “No Easy Decision)” opened the door for new stories to be shared. Many women who wrote to express their love to Markai, Katie and Natalia also told their own personal stories, some of which included feelings of sadness and regret.  It’s important that these stories be heard and honored.

Feeling heard is key to experiencing wellbeing after abortion.  When we feel heard, we feel less stigmatized, less alone, and more capable of taking care of ourselves.  When we feel heard we can move forward with new wisdom and understanding about ourselves to inform our future. When we feel heard, we feel empowered.

Pro-voice advocates stand with every woman who has had an abortion, including those who feel grief and regret. Feelings like these are common following any significant life decision, as is the experience of a mix of emotions that might seem contradictory and yet, can all be true and valid. In celebration of abortion wellbeing, let us read and affirm the feelings expressed by these women who shared their stories through “16 & Loved”:

Angie says:

By the time it was all over I was laughing because I couldn’t get my pants on and crying because I was alone. It is ok to grieve, cry, and be sad. But don’t hold it in to the point that it is harming your mental well being. After 10 years I am ok with my decision and maybe I will have kids one day, but right now I know that it was the right thing to do.

The sun still shines’ story:

So without my parents’ knowledge I had the procedure done. I have never been so scared in my life but i knew i was doing what was best for me and my future. For months after that I had nightmares and could not sleep. I felt like I had killed someone. The guilt was terrible. It’s now been 3 years and hearing peoples’ opinion of the matter still bothers me and sometimes I do struggle with it. But I do know I am not a bad person for my decision and I am making the best of my life.

Desiree says:

You don’t ever forget but that’s okay. You’re never alone, you’re loved and you did the right thing. You will not be punished down the line, you will have sadness but you’ll also know great and wonderful joy.

Becca’s post talks about regret and affirms her decision:

i regret my decision more than anything but i also know it was the best decision for me at the moment. it’s the most painful thing to live with in the world. every baby i see on the bus, walking down the street, etc. makes me fill with regret and want to cry. watching this show made me realize more than ever that i am not alone and that my decision was the best for me, whether others agree or not.

Vicky talks about feelings that change often:

It’s been years for me, and I still don’t know if I made the right choice. Some days I regret it, some days it was the best choice I ever made. I think the fact that even after all this time I still don’t know, says to me that there was no way I could have known then. I made the best decision I could, at the time, with the support I had, and I cling to that now.

Women’s abortion experiences are varied and unique. In celebrating wellbeing, we also celebrate each woman’s personal journey and all its facets, joys and challenges.  She has everything she needs to be well.  Let’s listen.

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Guest Post By Jamia Wilson

Turning thirty this year came with many lessons and challenges, including a gift of self-acceptance. One theme that has prevailed in my mind this year has been family. While my family, my faith, and my loved ones have always been of the utmost importance to me, the stunning loss of my beloved great-uncle ignited a renewed commitment to loving my family (biological and chosen) ferociously, faithfully, and unapologetically.

In celebration of Exhale’s Abortion Wellbeing Month, I reflect on the role that a loving family has played in my life and how important love and family is for the health and wellbeing of African American women who have abortions.

My great uncle taught me about what it means to feel loved by family.  For as long as I can remember, Uncle Jeff lit up my life with his sparkling eyes, melodious laugh, and generous gifts on each of my birthdays. My grand-mother’s best friend and older brother possessed stunning beauty inside and out, and his strength of character and compassion impressed all who knew him.

Over a year ago, I visited with Uncle Jeff during a business trip. When I arrived at his house, he greeted me with a warm embrace and told me stories about his work, his love for his late wife, and his experiences in the military. He said he wanted me to know about his life because he was 90-years-old and he didn’t want me forget him. I expressed to him that I loved him and would never forget a soul as beautiful as his. At this moment he embraced me and said, “It feels so good to know that you love me. Thank you for that. I know I am not alone”. I will never forget that day, the last time I saw him alive, and the message he permanently burned into my heart.

When he died last year, I was devastated.  At his funeral, I looked around the church and saw the whole family surrounding his coffin. As they played “Taps” and laid a folded flag in my grandmother’s arms, I fully understood what he had been urging us to see for so long—the importance of valuing and celebrating each other–and I will never forget his lesson.

Markai Durham

In December, when I watched the premiere of MTV’s ”No Easy Decision” and saw the portrayal of Markai Durham’s family and their supportive and respectful response to her decision to end her pregnancy, the strength of her family unit reminded me of my own. I was drawn to Markai because her family’s sense of unconditional love and support in the face of adversity reminded me of my family and their unyielding compassion during challenging times.

I was pleasantly surprised by MTV’s presentation of Markai’s family during the show. Instead of exploiting and promoting negative stereotypes about African Americans, single-mothers, and multi-racial families, the network covered Markai’s experience with integrity. The Durham family and their friends were depicted authentically, and even though they weren’t perfect, they were real, loving, and caring without judgment.

As I watched the show and the interactions between Markai and her wise and supportive mother, I reflected on a phone conversation with my mom when I was 17 and just starting college. I remember calling my mother for advice about helping out a friend who had an abortion and couldn’t tell her family. I recall explaining my frustration that this friend could not confide in her own mother due to her fear of being disowned and excommunicated from her church. My mom praised me for being supportive and urged me to treat my friend like a sister, and be the family she needed in lieu of her own.

I asked my mom what she would do if I found myself in a similar situation and I’ll never forget her forceful but sweet southern-accented voice saying, “Don’t have sex until you are a responsible adult and make sure you use protection. I’m too young and fabulous to be a grandmother, but if you do find yourself pregnant, I will be there for you, and support you no matter what option you choose”.  Years later, I remember those words, and I’m glad that I always knew that she would be there for me, no matter what, and without any stigma.

I’m thankful that Markai, me, and many other young women of color have mothers like ours who have our backs and respect our agency.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting around a table of diverse women of color and allies discussing the emergence of anti-abortion billboards targeting African American women who have had abortions in Soho.

One of the young women sitting across the table from me explained her frustration after hearing about a friend’s very young child asking her what the billboard meant. Her friend’s child saw how the young brown girl in the billboard looked a lot like herself. For three hours, we discussed what we could do to take action and prevent other women of color in cities across America from being targeted with such judgmental attacks—attacks which try to shame and disparage African American families alongside the billboards’ more overt, ideological messages about abortion. We knew that each attack on one woman’s dignity and respect was an attack on every one of us, whether we have had an abortion or not.

There is a long, ugly history of this kind of attack on pregnant African American women. I know about the insidious realities my foremothers faced during slavery. It is terrifying to fathom what life was like for women who were raped by their owners and forced to carry pregnancies to term in order to increase the workforce for their attackers. It is outrageous to imagine a time when families were split apart and forced to live in isolation while their kin were being sold far away. The billboards attempt to bring this hurtful legacy into our present lives.

When I think of the past, it reminds me why I am so grateful for my family. I will do whatever it takes to value and fervently love the people I share my life with. Having a family that supports me is a true blessing.

We often hear negative stories about African American families in the public discourse, but today, I write to recognize and celebrate the love and communion that has been holding our community together for hundreds of years. My great-uncle Jeff taught me that we are not alone when we share our stories.

We are never alone when we give our love.

____________________________________________________

Jamia is Vice President of Programs at the Women’s Media Center in New York City. after serving in several roles related to youth leadership development, grassroots organizing, and communications. Jamia worked for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund  and served on the PPFA Structure and Governance Committee and the Pro-Choice Education Project Steering Committee.  Jamia was honored as one of the “Real Hot 100″ by the Younger Women’s Taskforce, and she has been nominated twice for Women’s Information Network’s annual Young Women of Achievement Awards as well as awarded NYU’s Department of Student Affairs’ Fall 2007 Hallmark Award for Wellness and The Center for Multicultural Education and Programs NIA Administrator Award.  Watch Jamia’s speech at the February 2011 “Stand Up for Women’s Health” rally!

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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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