Women’s Centre addresses stigma in pro-choice awareness campaign

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In preparation for this year’s Pro-Choice Awareness Week, volunteers from the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union Women’s Centre met on Mar. 17 to review talking points on the contentious issue of reproductive choice.

This year’s awareness campaign points to the stigma that women face when they choose to have an abortion. The event’s website counters common anti-abortion narratives, citing a study that suggests only five per cent of women regret the decision to have an abortion. It says that of that five per cent, most live in communities that heavily stigmatize abortion and lack support. The Women’s Centre has a table in the Arts Tunnel Mar. 21–24 to offer information and resources.

Monica Gordon, a recent U of S psychology graduate, volunteers at the Women’s Centre and speaks to the objectives of the initiative.

“The goals are mostly to provide a pro-choice presence on campus, to make women who have had abortions know that there are people out there who support them and, with this campaign specifically, to ask people toPro - Choice - Jeremy Britz think critically about how they might be stigmatizing women who have had abortions,” Gordon said.

While a third of middle-aged Canadian women are reported to have terminated a pregnancy at some point, a 2014 study published in the Journal of Sociological Science by New York University professor Sarah Cowan found that only half of those polled say they know someone who has had an abortion, suggesting something of a disconnect according to Gordon.

She and other volunteers at the Women’s Centre say they want students faced with unplanned pregnancies to be secure in the knowledge that their autonomy and decisions are supported.

“While we don’t think this is an issue that affects us or affects people that we know, it is. There are plenty of students on this campus who have had abortions but who just don’t feel like it’s safe to talk about them or make them known. So we want to create a culture where it’s safe for them to be open about their reproductive choices,” Gordon said.

Gordon attributes the stigma and misinformation surrounding abortion to an emotionally unsafe culture for students.

“There’s research to show that the idea that abortion is an inherently traumatizing experience for women isn’t true. You don’t have to be a psychology major to know that bullying and ostracizing and judging women who have had abortions can be very psychologically damaging. That’s why we’re saying that abortion stigma hurts women, and we’re asking people to be aware of how they might be perpetuating stigma,” Gordon said.

Ashley Clouthier, a fourth-year English and history student and volunteer for the Women’s Centre, stresses the significance of visibility in dismantling pro-choice stereotypes. Along with other volunteers, she seeks to make students aware of the resources available to them, including their own agency.

“Our goal with Pro-Choice Awareness Week is to just make sure everybody knows that we are here too, and that we are supporting whatever choice a pregnant person needs to make,” Clouthier said.

Gordon mentions that it is not simply a matter of preaching to the converted. The services offered by the Women’s Centre are available to all U of S students including those with different opinions and experiences.

“Everyone of course is entitled to an opinion, but we specifically want to make it clear that we support women no matter what their experiences are. We’re not just going to support women if their experience furthers our political agenda,” Gordon said.

In terms of access to abortion care in Saskatchewan, there are clinics in Saskatoon and in Regina, and Gordon reasons that residents of the province might be more mobilized with increased awareness.

“I think a lot of it is because people are afraid to push for improved access because of abortion stigma. And even if they’re someone who hasn’t had an abortion, they don’t want to bring that stigma down on themselves.”

According to Clouthier, the campaign’s take-home message is one of inclusivity.

“All abortion experiences are valid. Nobody should be made to feel bad because they didn’t regret their abortion and also nobody should feel like they can’t come to us because they do regret their abortion. Because we will be supportive, no matter what,” Clouthier said. “Our door is always open.”

Patty Hails

Graphic: Jeremy Britz / Graphics Editor