Tomorrow, abortion advocates plan to flood twitter with an #AbortStigma hashtag, which is exactly what it sounds like. The originators of the hashtag claim that post-abortive women have been “silent,” and that they want to “discard the horrors pro-lifers have painted in our absence.” The reality, of course, is that the pro-life movement has not silenced post-abortive women, but has amplified their voices; abortion advocates just don’t like what these most vocal women have to say (although the official website does concede that regret is at least possible).
More activists are hopping on the bandwagon and intend to use the hashtag to advance the opinion that no one should ever express disapproval of abortion. That’s a pretty extreme view, one that I don’t think is even shared by most pro-choicers. But it’s out there, and pro-lifers naturally plan to chime in with the very legitimate reasons abortion is stigmatized. Abortion isn’t just one choice among many; it’s a choice that kills someone. Which, of course, is why many post-abortive people experience guilt and regret. “Destigmatizing” abortion by treating it as just another medical procedure belittles the very reasons women “suffer in quiet solitude.”
So that’s that. But allow me to suggest a secondary theme in the #AbortStigma discussion: we have a responsibility, as pro-lifers, to end the stigma of young and unwed parenthood. Although acceptance is growing for unmarried cohabitation and non-traditional family structures, many pregnancies remain subject to near-instant condemnation. Sixteen? Struggling with substance abuse? In college? “Don’t ruin your life with a baby.”
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the role that religion plays in this. Some religious schools have a policy of kicking out students, and even teachers, who become pregnant outside of marriage. I can’t think of a better way to perpetuate abortion. If people of faith are reading, I urge you to work within your communities to fix this.
When I conceived my oldest at fifteen, I had a very vague idea as to how I would be treated once my uterus expanded to reveal my secret. I had the notion that if I just reassured the skeptics that my future would be fine, they would take their negativity elsewhere. Some people however, were determined to convince me otherwise.
My parents didn’t take the news lightly. One of the first things that they exclaimed was, “What will our friends and family think?!” Their disappointment shifted when they came up with the “solution.” They said that no one should know of my pregnancy, and that I WILL have an abortion. “We’ll pretend that nothing happened and go on with our lives,” my mom said happily. I was shocked that they valued the family’s reputation more than my daughter’s life.
It’s not just my parents that think that way. When I talk to abortion minded girls they often mention being afraid of the rejection, the stares, and the comments. If they’re in a private school they fear getting expelled. If they are close with their friends they imagine getting isolated and forgotten. Nobody wants that, yet somehow society manages to justify the stigma by saying that it keeps teenage pregnancy down. This is a myth, considering the fact that the majority of these pregnancies are unplanned, often unwanted.
Last year the Bloomberg administration released an ineffective campaign where they used shame approaches as a strategy to reduce teenage pregnancy in NYC. The posters depicted minority children crying saying things like, “Honestly Mom, he won’t stay with you. What happens to me?” and a texting game in which the protagonist (a pregnant teen) goes to prom just to get called a fat loser. What would a pregnant girl contemplating abortion think when she sees such ads? That she has nothing but misery and failure to look forward to? We need to build our girls up, not tear them down.