All across the world and everyday people decide to have an abortion. One in every four pregnancies ends with an abortion. Yet information about abortion is often imprecise and stigmatizing. Abortion stigma is created by negatively portraying those that seek information about abortion, have had abortions, provide abortions, or simply support abortion rights. Fighting abortion stigma is as important as political lobbying and attempts to change the legislation. It can be done through new narratives around abortion, de-mystifying abortion, and de-bunking myths. Talking about abortion, normally, without taboos, and without drama can increase abortion access.
In Poland, in country where a strict anti-abortion law was implemented in 1993, work to address abortion stigma can be a significant challenge, but one definitely worth undertaking.
The hardest part of addressing any challenge is to start, especially if you have no support and feel isolated in your opinions and values. We experienced that isolation. We had already identified as feminist activists before we formed the Abortion Dream Team and have worked for years in reproductive rights. Step by step and enriched by many conversations and our own experience with abortion, the feeling that we want to talk about abortion differently and talk about abortion much more continued to grow stronger in each of us and between us. We asked ourselves – who is our audience when we talk about abortion? With whom are we or should we be having these conversations? With politicians? With experts? And why not simply with the thousands who have had the abortion experience? Why are we so cautious, and staying on the safe side? And finally, we asked ourselves – if we are so well aware that having an abortion brings relief, a sense of control over one’s life, why are we afraid to talk about abortion positively, proudly, and confidently? How could we not share our personal knowledge of the reality of abortion with others?
As members of Abortion Dream Team, we strive to normalize abortion. Since the very conception of our Team, we link the theme of medical abortion (abortion with pills) with the de-stigmatization of abortion. We organize public meetings, debates, publish articles, have billboard campaigns, and design abortion-affirming graphics.
The Abortion Dream Team started in 2016 as a multidisciplinary group of people that could offer different perspectives and view abortion through different lenses, centering rights and reproductive justice in their work. We gathered 4 people with different experiences and expertise: a founder of an support online forum and telephone helpline Kobiety w Sieci, a vocal activist working in academia and a researcher of abortion, a lawyer specializing in reproductive rights and abortion legislation, and an activist from the global medical abortion service Women Help Women. Our common denominator was our commitment to activism around abortion and to sustained civil disobedience.
As we launched new strategies in Poland, there was really no precedent locally, so we drew on the resources and experiences of feminist activists in other countries. From the beginning, we chose pink and positive messaging around abortion for our symbols and designs. After years of shades of grey and black, sad faces looking into symbolic windows, tears and pregnant bellies, it is time for abortion to be depicted with smiles, pink color and glitter. Our actions and style are oftentimes contested. In Poland abortion has lost its place as an issue of health and social justice; shamefully, abortion has been pushed into the corner of politics and personal opinion. Even in the pro-choice community, the prevalent discourse is to portray abortion as something that should be rare, something that must remain a difficult decision. It’s easy to feel displaced, discouraged and alone by the overwhelming weight of this stigmatizing approach.
The inroads global gathering in Zagreb felt like drinking gallons of energy. From 12 till 16 March we gathered with other organizations and groups discussing stigma, inserting abortion narratives into art and culture, making comic books, talking about the role of media and how they can be our allies, and learning how to organize and facilitate storytelling events. Inspired by the workshops, in May 2018 we organized the first abortion storytelling event in Poland. Eighteen people subscribed in just two days.
The gathering in Zagreb was a breath of fresh air because it showed that what in our Polish context is branded as radical and provocative, is normal, rational and supported by other inroads members. It showed us that our campaign soundbite: “abortion is okay” is international. We felt empowered and supported in our claim that abortion is a social good, and that for some people it may lead to opening a champagne bottle (and that is also okay, because all your feelings around your abortion are okay). We were embraced and supported in our idea that celebrating abortion is legitimate and deserves to be talked about too. We returned from Zagreb feeling part of a community and self-assured of the integrity of choices we had made. We returned more committed to de-stigmatize abortion, through meetings, workshops, film screenings, comic books, zines and storytelling. After all, we learned from the best. We promise to chase the abortion stigma away from Poland.