An Open Letter to Public Officials and Policy Makers:
As organizations advocating for reproductive health, rights, and justice, we urgently call on public officials and policy makers to use the word abortion. Abortion stigma—defined as associating a “negative attribute” towards people who provide, have had, or are seeking abortions—has facilitated the passage of radical laws like Texas SB 8, which bans abortion at approximately six weeks of pregnancy and has forced nearly all abortion services to an abrupt stop across the state. Failing to explicitly use the term abortion and reinforcing negative messages about self-managed or non-clinical abortion contributes to abortion stigma. It is more dire than ever that policy makers act now to protect access to care and make all possible efforts to break down abortion stigma, including using the term abortion.
Abortion is health care. Access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, including access to abortion care, is essential to gender equity and equality. Abortion restrictions rely on and reinforce harmful stereotypes about gender roles and women’s decision-making instead of offering support, undermining their ability to control their own lives and well-being. When someone makes the decision to have an abortion, they should be able to access the care they need with respect and dignity, free from burdens, barriers, and stigma.
Even though abortion is common and a normal part of reproductive health experiences, with one in four women in the U.S. having an abortion in her lifetime, there remains considerable stigma about abortion. Consequently, public officials will sometimes refer to abortion as “women’s health” and the legal framework around abortion rights as “the right to choose”, “pro-choice” or “protecting Roe v. Wade.” Avoiding the word “abortion” reinforces abortion stigma and the notion that abortion is morally wrong, allowing opponents of abortion to define the moral narrative surrounding it.