The Pro-Choice Movement, Proving the Anti-Choice Movement Right

The current kid-friendly pro-choice mantra is "Safe, legal and rare," which reflects a popular understanding that while abortion is maybe not the best choice or the first choice or even any choice for some women, it should be a medically and legally viable, safe option for every woman. A lot of women and men have fought very hard for many years to protect this right, against assassins and bombers and pushy protesters and fundie legislators and ballot initiatives and Supreme Court cases. So, I guess it's sort of understandable that some of them have maybe lost sight of the women for whom they are protecting these — in some cases, admittedly theoretical — rights. Otherwise, how else does one explain the utter dearth of funding for pro-choice post-abortion counseling from within the pro-choice movement?

Pro-Choice Resources is a non-profit group in Minneapolis that works "to provide a full span of reproductive health services to women and youth; advocacy, access, education and empowerment." It also hosts a support group called Emerge for women who have had abortions. Exhale is a post-abortion counseling hotline designed to fill a need due to "the lack of non-judgmental services available for women and their significant others after an abortion." It has served 15,000 women since 2002. Both are in danger of disappearing — and not because they're being pressured by the right.

Both programs are dependent on donors and, like most donor-dependent non-profits, much of their revenue comes from foundations and other large organizations. Because they've waded into the area of counseling women who feel, at best, ambivalent about their abortions or, at worst, regret them, they have trouble attracting donations from reproductive rights groups. Because they are dedicated to abortion counseling, they have trouble attracting money from more traditional health foundations. Basically, they're screwed either way.

Aspen Baker, Exhale's co-founder and executive director, spoke to a group of pro-choice donors in Washington recently and had to explain why they should fund an operation that likes to call itself "pro-voice." Baker pointed out:

Forty percent of women who have abortions identify as Christian or Catholic, for example, and may also consider themselves pro-life. Few women want to talk about politics when they call Exhale, Baker says; many just want to tell someone they've had an abortion, and talk through feelings ranging from relief to grief.

She didn't get that much money out of the meeting: they're still well short of their $450,000 goal for 2008.

These groups are exactly what the pro-choice movement needs to be a part of, rather than allowing them to whither and leaving pro-choice women to be counseled and co-opted by the anti-choice movement as spokespeople — as the plaintiff in Roe v. Wade has been. And yet we're too scared of our own shadows, too scared to give the antis ammunition, too focused on spending our money fighting legal battles to look at what our movement needs to be able to continue to hold on politically to the very women who have made the difficult choice and then needed to talk it out. It's time to stop letting them portray us as humorless, ivory-tower intellectual baby-killers, and start helping the women who need our emotional support before they turn to the people who would've denied them their rights in the first place.

The Abortion Counseling Conundrum [The American Prospect]

Related: Exhale

Emerge