Storytelling to Advance Reproductive Justice in Northern Virginia

| Reproaction

By: Caitlin Blunnie

Even though abortion is extremely safe and common, the stigma and shame surrounding it can make it seem difficult to even say the ‘a’ word aloud. This is the result of ‘reproductive stigma,’ a term that the Sea Change Program defines as, the labeling, judgment, discrimination or poor treatment that people face when their reproductive experiences fall outside of the expected norm. This type of stigma can apply to a variety of reproductive experiences, including abortion, infertility, pregnancy loss, or the decision to become a parent at a young age.

Reproductive stigma, and more specifically abortion stigma, is everywhere, and is perpetuated through our media, laws and public policy, institutions, and by individuals. On the community level however, we have an opportunity to confront and bust abortion stigma, and storytelling can be a powerful tool for us to do so.

At a moment where our rights and identities are under attack, it is more important than ever that we practice community care, and sharing our abortion stories is crucial to that work. As organizations that are working to advance reproductive freedom in Virginia, Reproaction, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, and the Falls Church Healthcare Center came together in Northern Virginia on Wednesday, July 24, to host, Voices for Repro: A Night of Storytelling and Crafting.

Despite the Virginia heat, around 6:30 p.m., the waiting room of the Falls Church Healthcare Center began to fill. With snacks and crafts in hand, people began pulling chairs into a small circle, expanding it until it was large enough to accommodate about 25 people.

Organizers opened the space with ground rules and community agreements. After, we started the conversation with the question, is there an experience in your life that moved you to advocate for abortion access and reproductive justice? What started with awkward silence, quickly bloomed into a space to laugh, cry, and understand.

By the time we were done, it was hard to believe that an hour and a half had gone by. It was clear that this wasn’t just a space that was missing from our community, but one that was needed.

After sharing, participants were invited on a tour of the Falls Church Healthcare Center to better understand the reproductive healthcare services they offer. People walked through the clinic while staff explained the various restrictions and requirements someone must go through when seeking abortion care Virginia, including mandatory counseling and the 24-hour waiting period. For most of the people in the group, this was the first time they had ever been inside an abortion clinic.

When we are shamed into silence about our experiences, it allows our opponents to use the decisions we make about our bodies, especially abortion, to push their own radical agenda to use sexuality and gender roles to enforce white male dominance. The decisions people make about their reproductive health and futures should never be judged or debated, and we should be listening, uplifting and centering these voices in our communities.

The movement for reproductive justice is not a sprint, or even a run, and it is often difficult to see progress and change happen. At Reproaction, we often have conversations about incorporating joy in our activism and taking time to celebrate the small wins. Reproaction’s strategic plan affirms the importance of self-care in activism and resistance, and our staff employ these principles as we fight to increase access to abortion and advance reproductive justice. Those same values apply when doing long-term movement building work in our communities. It is a sign that we’re doing something right when more than 20 people showed up to an abortion clinic on a Wednesday night to share their experiences and stories in community with others.

Reproaction is proud to be spearheading this work in partnership with NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and the Falls Church Healthcare Center in Northern Virginia. We are also thankful for the support from Shout Your Abortion, which provided us with tips and materials for this event.

If you’re interested in creating storytelling spaces in your community, here are some resources from organizations leading this work that we recommend you check out:

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