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TED Talks and Eliminating Abortion Stigma

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February 17, 2014

Recently the folks who do TED Talks announced that they did not do talks on abortion, claiming that it is more of a “topical issue” similar to a “state tax bill” rather than the issues covered by TED, which include “justice, inequality and human rights.” This falls under this silly guise that abortion is far too political, even amongst other issues that apparently aren’t as “topical,” such as contraception access and feminist theory.

This “abortion is too political” attitude reminds me about an incident I had last semester in a class about human sexuality. This particular lecture had over 250 students, and it provided an opportunity for me to announce events on campus. While I had made announcements about the kick-off meeting and Take Back the Night rally from the Choice USA chapter I lead in the class, the one time we had an event about reproductive health and specifically abortion, I was told that the issue was “too dividing” therefore I could not announce it in front of the class. And yet the same professor opened the floor and spoke out and his own opinion of other “controversial” issues such as marriage equality, polyamory, LGBTQ rights and sexual assault/victim-blaming.

So why are people, even self-identified social justice-concerned progressives, afraid to talk about abortion?

First, abortion is falsely cited as one of the most dividing social issues in the US. The issue reflects identity and personal philosophies about sexuality, and it’s often thought of as a partisan issue, even though plenty of people across the political spectrum are in favor of the Roe vs. Wade ruling. A person’s thoughts on abortion can be influenced by their ideas about sex for solely pleasure, a woman’s right to agency over her life and the right to plan a family and to live childfree.

In addition, people feel morally iffy about abortion because of the rhetoric pushed by anti-choicers about “murder” and “life.” Anti-choicers have done a helluva job creating ambiguous feelings, even creating the case for so-called “feminists.” They showcase manipulated photographs and use the right language to make people feel morally uncertain about the issue.

The biggest reason why we should start creating more public conversations about abortion is because of stigma for those folks who choose the procedure. Stigma after choosing an abortion is commonplace, with people staying silent about their own procedures. There have been a lot more awareness and action around this recently, with one of the first “abortion speak outs” happening at University of Michigan, and organizations like Exhale and the 1 in 3 Campaign taking a stand against stigma and shame in order to create a conversation.

So what happens when we are silent about abortion? Anti-choice politicians and groups use their political power to close down clinics across the US. Abortion is now a medical procedure where you have to figure out how to get one. As a person who actively advocates for reproductive justice, I’ve personally received a few frantic phone calls from a friend-of-a-friend who needs help finding out about the logistics of scheduling an appointment. This does not happen with any other procedure — if someone wants breast augmentation, laser eye surgery or another outpatient surgery, they can easily speak with their doctor about the issue.

This TED Talk issue is more than just electoral politics playing its way into a lecture series.  It’s about making abortion similarly accessible and easy to talk about for those who choose the procedure. That is an idea worth spreading.

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