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Washington Post Op-Ed: 'Coded Language' of The Past 'Giving Way to Frank Talk' About Abortion

Washington Post Op-Ed: 'Coded Language' of The Past 'Giving Way to Frank Talk' About Abortion

June 16, 2015 — When it comes to discussing abortion, "coded language of the older guard is giving way to frank talk from a younger generation of activists," columnist Jill Filipovic writes in a Washington Post opinion piece. She writes, "Today, activists are realizing that the only way to erase the stigma is to talk about it."

Filipovic notes that in the three years after the 2010 midterm elections "more abortion restrictions were passed ... than in the previous decade." NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue has called the phenomenon "the peak of a 40-year plan on the part of the anti-choice movement to get what they want," adding, "I think that has caused a reckoning within organizations and the movement to say, we can suffer death by a thousand cuts, or we can actually create our own long-term plan."

Changing the Dialogue

"Younger activists are shaping the dialogue, taking cues from the Internet, where conversational norms reward unabashed honesty about the female experience," Filipovic explains. She notes that, to these activists, it "makes little sense" to "excis[e] the word 'abortion' from abortion rights."

Further, Filipovic notes that some politicians have shifted from avoiding the topic to discussing it directly. For example, President Obama "evaded the issue in [his] 2008 presidential [campaign]," but in January he "used the word 'abortion' in one of his State of the Union addresses for the first time," she writes.

According to Filipovic, abortion-rights supporters "are also putting a human face on the procedure." She writes about how former Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis (D) and Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards have shared their abortion stories, while several "[o]rganizations that encourage abortion story-sharing, including Exhale, Advocates for Youth and the Sea Change Program, have created platforms and guides for women who want to speak out."

"The shift is not just political; it's cultural," Filipovic writes, pointing to recent depictions of abortion experiences in the media, such as the 2014 romantic comedy "Obvious Child," a new TV show called "Jane the Virgin," and features in Elle and New York magazine. "Today, the percentage of Americans who say they're pro-choice is at a seven-year high," she writes.

Shift From "'The Good Abortion,'" Contextualizing Abortion in Reproductive Justice

In addition, Filipovic notes that younger abortion-rights advocates are "pushing back on what they call the narrative of 'the good abortion'" and are "talking about the whole range of their experiences." She writes, "Most women who terminate pregnancies aren't facing life-threatening tragedies but rather more mundane ones: The most common reasons women give include not being financially ready, poor timing for a baby, issues with a partner and the need to care for the children they already have." Today's activists note that "playing down that reality -- and the importance of abortion services for all women -- contributes to the stigma that keeps abortion shameful and politically contentious," Filipovic writes.

Filipovic also discusses abortion in the context of reproductive justice and intersectionality. She notes that Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong: Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, defines the term "reproductive justice" as "'the human right of every individual to have a child, to not have a child, to parent the children they have in healthy and sustainable environments, and the human right to bodily autonomy.'"

According to Fillipovic, "With America becoming more racially diverse, Simpson says more traditional pro-choice organizations are realizing that they need to appeal to a wider demographic in order to survive." She writes that "mainstream reproductive rights and health groups increasingly seem to employ" a "model pioneered by reproductive-justice groups -- talk about abortion honestly, contextualize it as one piece of women's lives, focus on the most vulnerable" (Filipovic, Washington Post, 6/12).