Why Student Activists Across The Country Are Hosting Abortion Speakouts

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One in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime. Since so few women openly discuss their abortion experiences, that statistic may be surprising to many Americans. But that’s slowly starting to change, as student groups and activists across the nation work to make women’s real abortion experiences a part of the dialogue.

The stigma that surrounds abortion prevents many people from feeling comfortable enough to discuss it openly. Lately, advocates and politicians have been speaking publicly about their own experiences with having an abortion. Abortion speakouts, which are safe spaces for people to discuss their abortion experiences freely, have been popping up on college campuses all over the country.

The first abortion speakout occurred at the Redstockings Protest of 1969 in response to legislative hearings on abortion that included only male speakers (a political dynamic that persists today). More recently, Civil Liberties and Public Policy’s abortion speakout inspired the 1 in 3 Campaign, a project of Advocates for Youth, to launch an effort to get college campuses across the country to host speakouts.

Last fall, with the support of the 1 in 3 Campaign, the Students for Choice at the University of Michigan hosted a campus-wide abortion speakout — the first of its kind. And last Thursday, students at the college held their second annual speakout.

Sonya Renee Taylor — a poet, activist, and founder of The Body Is Not an Apology, a movement focused on body positivity and reproductive justice — opened this year’s event by sharing her own abortion story.

“I think the more that women unapologetically own their decisions and their choices and their bodies, the more we erode stigma,” Taylor told ThinkProgress. “The more that politicians realize that it’s their family members who are needing this procedure and making these decisions and with most things once you realize it isn’t some ‘other’ — that it’s someone you love — there’s an opening in that. And I think that that’s what many politicians need.”

Marissa Miars, the communications director for the Students for Choice chapter, echoed that sentiment. “So many of the conversations we hear around abortion in this country are held in legislative spaces by politicians and policy makers. We rarely hear about abortion from the people who actually experience them,” she told ThinkProgress via email. “If every politician in Washington had been in that room with us on Thursday night, we might be having a different conversation right now.”

Encouraged by the University of Michigan’s success, 21 other campuses have committed to hosting their own abortion speakouts this school year, according to Julia Reticker-Flynn, the Youth Activist Network Manager at Advocates for Youth.

And on November 20, Advocates for Youth will be hosting a national abortion speakout online. Participants will be able to either call or Skype in to share their abortion experiences. The event will be live streaming on the 1 in 3 Campaign website over an eight hour period throughout the day, and anyone who has had an abortion is welcome to participate through signing up by November 2.

“Research indicates that if you know someone who has had an abortion, you are more likely to support abortion access,” Reticker-Flynn pointed out in an email exchange with ThinkProgress. “If one in three women have had an abortion in her lifetime, theoretically everyone knows someone who has had an abortion. Through breaking the silence around abortion, we can build support for abortion access, thus influencing public policy.”

Miars hopes these events spread even further across college campuses.

“I think any campus can host a Speak Out,” she said. “There would be additional concerns with a more conservative campus climate… I don’t think this should be a deterrent, though, and would encourage campuses where this is a concern to reach out to like-minded communities for support and consider hiring campus security for the event.”

Kaitlin Holmes is a senior at the University of Michigan, as well as a current intern on the Women’s Initiative team at the Center for American Progress.