Fighting abortion stigma in the Netherlands
It’s okay to feel!
In the Netherlands, 1 out of 8 pregnancies ends in abortion. 1 out of 4 women will have an abortion before the age of 45, while 1 out of 3 women will have one in their lifetime. These statistics show that abortion is a common and daily experience. Still, it is considered a taboo topic, concealed with stigma and people often do not feel comfortable speaking about it.
At the beginning of our autumn semester, the ambition to fight social injustices and empower women brought us, a team of four young women, together. As we dove deeper into the complex issue of stigmatizing abortions in the Netherlands, we found out that a lot of aspects of the process were not present to the public eye. While the Netherlands falls under the category of “easy access to abortion”, officially abortion is still in the country’s penalty code. This means it is a grey zone, reinforcing the stigma that abortion is morally wrong. Mass media has here strongly influenced the public perception of abortion, maintaining the stereotype that people going through the process are selfish, irresponsible, immoral, young, and childless. This subsequently also leads to society having certain expectations of how individuals with an abortion should behave and feel.
We therefore decided that we want to help reducing abortion stigma by bringing more awareness to the topic and normalizing the experience; ultimately, breaking the stereotypes and taboos surrounding it by showing that there are different ways to feel about abortion. For people who go through such an experience, there is often a rollercoaster of unpleasant and distressing emotions involved. A certain relief can be experienced by naming and distinguishing emotions as either “truly one’s own” or “placed upon by society”.
For our final value product, we therefore came up with the idea of developing an “It is okay to feel” list. Together with the help of our network partners, we created a list of 22 emotions and 6 experiences, aiming at assisting the process of reflection and emotional support before, during, and after an abortion. Each emotion/experience is thereby supported by personal stories from individuals who have gone through the process themselves, illustrated by art pieces, podcasts, and videos.
Our main intention is to emphasize that, when someone decides to have an abortion, every emotion is okay! You are allowed to feel whatever it is that you are feeling! It is okay to feel sad, empowered, relieved, or angry. It is okay to feel everything at once, as well.
The list is one of its kind, and through it, we hope that women will feel more supported, realizing that abortion is nothing bad, and even feel the confidence to share their experience.
Along our journey of understanding the complexity of the issue and developing our final value product, we collaborated with multiple stakeholders. We worked closely with Eva de Goeij from Humanistisch Verbond who is about to launch a platform aiming at representing the interests of women on contraception and abortion. The “It is okay to feel” list will have a special place on her platform, where it will be published in spring 2022. We also cooperated with organizations, such as ‘Stem op een Vrouw’, ‘Women on Web’, ‘Women on Waves’, ‘FIOM’, etc., with several abortion clinics in the Netherlands, and with researchers and activists fighting for the same cause.
It is time to break the stigma around abortion and accept that it is a common experience that happens to many people. It is time to respect and value a woman’s choice about her body and life. It is time to make room for love and acceptance. Abortion is okay!
If you are interested in knowing more about our work, or want to share something on the topic, we are always open for having a talk with you.
Please, feel free to contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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