Only when we end the silence and reduce the stigma about abortion can we succeed in changing prevailing views about it and regain our reproductive rights in all 50 states.
This term, the Supreme Court is set to rule on the Mississippi abortion case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, and with a 6-3 conservative majority it seems likely they will severely restrict, or overturn, the almost 50-year precedent established by Roe v. Wade.
Despite the magnitude of the pending decision, very few voters seem to be aware of the threat to abortion rights in America. In addition, despite over two dozen recent state legislative efforts to restrict abortion, there has been virtually no outcry opposing these actions.
It appears that even many Democrats still don’t quite believe that access to abortion is really hanging in the balance. In a December poll by the Associated Press, only 13 percent of Democrats identified reproductive rights as a top priority for 2022. The pandemic, inflation and healthcare, in general, were all higher priorities.
To succeed in making abortion rights a higher priority for voters, more open conversations about abortion will be necessary. The challenge we face is that abortion has always been treated as a private matter that we have been reluctant to discuss.
In fact, the federal protection provided by Roe v. Wade defined it as such when the court ruled that the due process clause of the 14th Amendment in the U.S. Constitution provides a “right to privacy” that protects a pregnant woman’s right to choose whether to have an abortion.
Even pro-choice talking points about abortion have often framed it as a private matter—“between a woman and her doctor.” Even though we at Planned Parenthood know that abortion is a normal part of many women’s reproductive lives, and that one in four American women will have an abortion by the age of 45, there is still a tremendous stigma around abortion.
Regardless of how common abortion is, many worry others will judge their decision to have an abortion, so they remain silent, not telling even friends and family. This silence means that people rarely hear real stories about real people’s experiences with abortion. Instead, the voices of religious and political leaders shape the abortion narrative in America.
People rarely hear real stories about real people’s experiences with abortion. Instead, the voices of religious and political leaders shape the abortion narrative in America.
We can learn some lessons from the recent successes in Latin America to expand abortion rights. In places like Colombia, Argentina and Mexico, activists worked to decriminalize abortion. In addition, they also organized campaigns to shift the conversation about abortion, combating misinformation and stigma by helping the public understand who is hurt most by restrictive laws, and by resulting illegal abortions.
We can also learn from the success of the gay rights movement, which changed significantly in the 1970’s when Harvey Milk led the movement for gay people to come out and make their voices heard. Having embraced that strategy over several decades, the gay community completely changed public perceptions about who they are, and significantly reduced the stigma attached to being gay.
Similarly, we have to reduce abortion stigma by ending the silence and raising up real people’s voices to overcome the myths that are pervasive today. Only when we end the silence and reduce the stigma about abortion can we succeed in changing prevailing views about it and regain our reproductive rights in all 50 states.
As a nation, we are at a fork in the road and we will have to decide if we will allow our reproductive freedom to be determined by others, or if we are going to demand that these freedoms be protected where they still exist and restored where they have been compromised.
Since it seems we can no longer rely on the courts to protect these rights, our only solution is to pass a new federal law that will protect abortion rights in all 50 states. The Senate’s recent failure to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act makes it clear that we will need a greater pro-choice majority than we have today to pass this new legislation.
This will not happen in one election cycle and it will take a commitment of time, energy and resources beyond that which we have been expending to date. We have to get all the voters who support reproductive rights registered and encourage them to vote. We have to elect representatives at all levels of government who will protect our reproductive rights that are currently under attack.
Most importantly, we have to end the silence by talking openly about abortion to make it a key voting issue in the coming elections. We also must raise our voices to let our elected officials and the justices of the Supreme Court know that we will not allow them to take away our abortion rights.
Sign and share Ms.’s relaunched “We Have Had Abortions” petition—whether you yourself have had an abortion, or simply stand in solidarity with those who have—to let the Supreme Court, Congress and the White House know: We will not give up the right to safe, legal, accessible abortion.