We’re Still Telling Abortion Stories, and Here’s Why

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When communications director Jo DeLosSantos led the way in sharing abortion stories for our July #MyBodyNC Campaign, we knew it wouldn’t be easy. As she reached out to the writers’ collective, advocates, partners, and friends, Jo faced challenges including silence from places she expected to receive support (some of which she highlights in a recent article in Rewire Magazine). Our upcoming theme will include paid leave and workers’ rights, but we are committed continuing to share abortion stories.

With the growing threat to reproductive rights, Women AdvaNCe embarked on a storytelling campaign with a goal of removing the stigma of abortion and to reinforce women’s rights to make medical decisions for their bodies. Nearly one in four women in the United States (23.7%) will have an abortion by age 45, according to a new analysis by Guttmacher Institute researchers Rachel Jones and Jenna Jerman in their study published in the American Journal of Public Health. “Learning more about differences in abortion rates could inform strategies to reduce disparities in reproductive health care,” says Jones. “The more we know about those having abortions, the better enabled we will be to meet their reproductive health needs.” Although abortion and the need for abortions are common, as women came forward who had never shared their stories, we saw just how difficult it was for women to share abortion stories without guilt and shame.

Part of our work at Women AdvaNCe is to publish personal stories that speak to the impact of policy.  We share more than data. Our approach to advancing change comes through storytelling that helps others relate, empathize, and process information in a form that is more digestible and memorable. Look around, there are plenty of media sources out there pushing the hard data to our inboxes. The #mybodync campaign was our first month-long focus and we are proud to share the results (compiled by Jo DeLosSantos): 

We shared social media of five types and measured some Facebook results per category:

  • I Had an Abortion Video – We sent one video out into the social media universe. We had a reach in excess of 3,000 and about 10% of folks engaged the video. Of that 10%, 7.5% shared the video. We had a total of 1.3K of folks view the video for a total of 424 minutes (in excess of seven hours) and the video itself was only 1 minute and 30 seconds long.  (Thanks to board member Polly Schattel & her company New Southern Films for producing the video.)
  • Personal Abortion Stories – We published four personal abortion stories. Cumulatively, we achieved a reach in excess of 2,000 folks. Of our reach, 18% of folks engaged with the posts in some way and 4.2% of the same folks shared the post.
  • Opinion Pieces – We published nine op/ed articles during the campaign with a cumulative reach of over 3,500 readers. Of our reach, 7.8% engaged and 4.3% shared the posts. 
  • Policy Pieces – There were three policy pieces during the month. We had a reach on Facebook of almost 1,000 participants, and of those, 4.3% engaged and 1.4% shared the post.
  • Reading Recommendations – There were five abortion-related book posts with a reach of over 1,000 and 3.5% of folks engaged. 

During that time, we also learned some valuable lessons about the abortion narrative movement from partners like Tara Romano at NARAL. In an interview about the state of abortion in North Carolina, Tara reminded us that “abortion activism can happen in different places.” She added, “It can be something as simple as sharing your story at the dinner table.” While NARRAL is educating and informing policymakers, they rely on storytelling to challenge the anti-abortion narrative.

We also learned about the power of narrative after a conversation with editor and reproductive rights advocate, Dr. Cynthia Greenlee. Her advice also led us to form support systems for women coming forward to share stories and discuss ways to protect anonymity upon request. In April 2019, Greenlee wrote a piece, also published in Rewire, titled Abortion Regret” Shows the Long History of a Favorite Anti-Choice Talking Point , Greenlee’s advice was this: “What would happen if the pro-choice movement included some stories that don’t align with the ‘American Dream’ abortion narrative (‘I was able to go to college/graduate/get a good job due to my abortion’)?” 

That’s exactly what we set out accomplished in July, now let’s work together to see what we can accomplish by sharing your stories in the future.  

Antionette Kerr is a media correspondent, author and publisher.

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