We Testify: New Effort to Help Eliminate Stigma, Build Community Around Abortion

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We Testify: New Effort to Help Eliminate Stigma, Build Community Around Abortion

Michelle D. Anderson

Renee Bracey Sherman, a program manager for the We Testify project, told Rewire that society and politicians have long allowed non-experts to speak about abortion rather than the diverse community of people who have intimate experience with the service.

Six years ago, reproductive justice advocate and North Carolina resident Kelsea McLain put herself “through hell” because she needed an abortion.

McLain said she was ashamed she forgot to take her birth control pill after spending so many years educating her peers about safe sex and reproductive health.

In the story she shares at We Testify, a new storytelling and leadership initiative launched by the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) Monday, McLain explains how she battled internalized stigma.

“I suffered from the idea that ‘smart, educated’ women don’t need abortions and I must admit, was pretty harsh on myself when I realized abortion would be a part of my life experience,” said McLain, one of more than a dozen individuals who make up We Testify’s first cohort.

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The first round of storytellers for We Testify represents a wide range of identities, specifically those living at the intersections of multiple oppressions.

NNAF said in a press release the We Testify project will help increase the spectrum of abortion storytellers in the public sphere, build leadership, and shift the way “the media understands the context and complexity of accessing abortion care.”

The new We Testify website boasts a “Swag Store” with t-shirts bearing phrases like, “I Love Someone Who Had An Abortion,” and other apparel, and a form for people to share their abortion stories.

After being approached by NNAF to participate in We Testify, McLain, who volunteers for the Carolina Abortion Fund, obliged, noting that the effort was “uplifting and empowering.”

“I’m just really excited to see the conversation about abortion being returned back to the women who are having them,” McLain told Rewire. “It’s become really common to talk about us like we’re an abstract idea, like we’re not real people.”

Renee Bracey Sherman, a policy representative for NNAF and the program manager for the We Testify project, told Rewire that society and politicians have long allowed non-experts to speak about abortion rather than the diverse community of people who have intimate experience with the service.

Just recently, Bracey Sherman took to social media to criticize organizers of Netroots Nation, the annual conference for the progressive movement, for allowing a panel on abortion without participants of color.

In a statement, NNAF Executive Director Yamani Hernandez said We Testify would help show how abortion narratives connect to complex racial, economic, and gender issues.

“Our abortion stories intersect with every part of our lives, and that’s why we’re reframing abortion access as connected to other anti-oppression work,” Hernandez said.

Leaders at NNAF have pointed to Guttmacher Institute statistics to show that most people who have abortions are people of color.

In the United States, white people obtain 39 percent of all abortions; Black people, 28 percent; Latinos, 25 percent; and people of other races and ethnicities, 9 percent, according to a Guttmacher fact sheet for 2016.

NNAF has also noted that three in ten cisgender women will have an abortion by age 45 and that transgender and non-binary people also have abortions and seek “competent and compassionate abortion care.”

In addition to amplifying the voices that are often ignored in abortion narratives, Bracey Sherman said We Testify serves as a support system and avenue to make abortion narratives more relational and not transactional.

Bracey Sherman said We Testify could help people deal with harassment, especially in the age of social media, decide what to share and keep private, and combat isolation by joining a community.

“It’s important to shift the narrative so everyone feels included and see themselves reflected,” Bracey Sherman said.