By: Sasha Bruce, Senior Vice President, NARAL Pro-Choice America
The stigma around abortion is pervasive. Society tells us at basically every point in our lives that abortion is bad or, at the very least, shameful. That even if your own life is at risk, choosing to seek out abortion care is a net-negative to yourself and to society.
In reality, a woman’s decision to have an abortion is a deeply personal health care decision between her and her health care provider. It’s a health care decision that empowers a woman to control her own life. It’s a health care decision that allows women to achieve the opportunities they want out of life. If we want to truly ensure that women have full autonomy over their own bodies and health care, we need to support women at all states of their reproductive lives – not stigmatize them – including when they choose abortion.
There are a number of concrete manifestations and perpetuations of abortion stigma in our country’s policy. Below are just four of the barriers we can break down to turn the tide of abortion stigma and make this country a safer and healthier place for women and families.
Repeal The Hyde Amendment
The federal Hyde amendment makes the use of public funds for abortion illegal in most circumstances. Apart from acting as a de facto abortion ban for low-income women, the Hyde amendment reinforces the idea that abortion should be separated from other forms of reproductive health care and restricted in ways that other health care is not. It paints abortion as an unnecessary medical frivolity and punishes low-income women for making “bad” decisions. Repealing the Hyde amendment will go a long way towards ending abortion stigma.
Repeal Biased Counseling and Mandatory Delay Laws
“Informed consent” and waiting period legislation are some of the boldest attempts to concretely manifest abortion stigma. Forcing a woman to first be subjected to medically inaccurate, partisan information that either exaggerates or entirely fabricates risks associated with abortion, and then forcing her to wait as long as 72 hours between receiving that misinformation and her procedure, is a tactic designed to implant doubt and shame into a woman’s decision making. As a society, we should trust women who choose to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion, instead of shame them with medically inaccurate information, and a waiting period that doesn’t respect the decision they’ve made.
Investigate Clinic Violence as Domestic Terrorism
Because the majority of abortion services are performed in clinics, the women seeking abortion care, abortion providers, and clinic staff themselves, are easily identifiable targets for stigma. But sometimes it unfortunately goes beyond just stigma. When we are wrongly taught that abortion is shameful or immoral, some in an extreme, ideologically-driven minority take their objection to the next level and commit acts of violence against those who seek or provide abortion care. False, and misleading anti-choice rhetoric and stigma has led to a climate where violence against abortion providers is tacitly condoned and passively encouraged. That violence must be investigated as domestic terrorism. We should be using the law in support of people who seek and provide abortion care.
Supporting Those Who Speak Out
One of the biggest reasons that abortion stigma persists is the pressure on women to remain silent about their experiences with abortion. But we know that one in three women will have an abortion over the course of their lifetime. Six in ten of those women are mothers. Being among those women is neither wrong nor shameful. Women should feel empowered to share their experiences if they choose, and society should support these women when they choose to speak out. Abortion is basic health care, not something to be ashamed of, and we shouldn’t consciously silence women who speak out about their experience.