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Can We Create a Different Conversation About Abortion?

Posted: 11/12/2013 5:22 pm

When is the last time you read or heard nuanced, complicated, compassionate, inspiring stories about abortion?

On Sunday, New York Magazine published 26 stories from women across the country who have personal abortion stories. The range, depth, variance, complexity -- the gray area of their stories -- is profound.

And refreshingly devoid of the usual language that surrounds abortion.

Too often in the last few years, and decades, abortion has been a screaming match -- not just in person or in media, but over email, Facebook, Twitter and even Pinterest (the realm of happy photos). With every new wave of legislation on abortion, group after group, email after email, compete for priority status denouncing or celebrating various initiatives.

It's exhausting. It's not working. And most importantly, this uproar leaves out a significant group -- people with personal abortion experiences.

As Meaghan Winter wrote, "the reality of abortion, and the emotions that accompany it, [is] a silent witness in our political discourse. The same woman can wake up one morning with regret, the next with relief -- most have feelings too knotty for a picket sign."

One in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime, yet I often hear people say, "I don't know anyone who's had an abortion."

I'm not surprised. I worked at an international reproductive health organization for six years and never had anyone share a personal story with me. In my lifetime, I've only had one friend openly tell me their story. I have more than three friends.

Yet, since joining Exhale a few months ago, I've now had more than 10 people share.

Why? Pro-voice.

Pro-voice is an approach Exhale developed that creates a different frame for the abortion conversation. It opens a special space -- a third conversation -- focused on listening, sharing, and embracing the complexities of people's experiences and perspectives. When I talk about what I do, and mention pro-voice, I see people's responses and reactions to abortion shift. I've witnessed how powerful it is when someone feels heard without judgment.

Through that connection, a social climate emerges where each person's unique experience with abortion is supported, respected and free from stigma.

Can you imagine a world where the word "abortion" signals our brains to think of compassionate conversation, support and an emotional bear hug rather than conjuring images of shouting, protests and signs?

That world would be a pretty amazing place to live. I believe we're on our way.

Since joining Exhale I see compassion, support, and empathy on a daily basis via email, in person and on blog posts. I see incredibly loving, upbeat, vulnerable and gutsy responses to challenging questions about abortion.

One example: This year, five incredible women have been traveling around the U.S., sharing their personal abortion stories with strangers, practicing pro-voice and discussing the approach with a range of groups and audiences -- two are actually featured in the New York Magazine piece.

This week, I get to see them in action in my home state of Texas -- a place that's been at the center of shouting recently. Will they experience the compassion and empathy they practice? I hope so.

While these five women aren't going to change the culture around abortion overnight, their presence, energy, and experience, are paving the way. It's an example and model for a new conversation around abortion. A conversation that may very well open up far more than 10 or 26 stories.

 

Follow Jaime-Alexis Fowler on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JaimeAlexis

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