Abortion is a difficult topic to talk about, and not just because the experience can stir up a lot of challenging emotions. It’s hard to talk about because the two main sides to the cultural arguments about it don’t have much common ground.
The anti-abortion folks (I refuse to call the pro-life until I see them supporting people’s health and well-being once they’re born) are so convinced that abortion is always wrong that they’ll tell lies about the emotional and physical impact of abortion, misrepresent their “counseling services” in order to trick women into accepting them, and harass women and their partners when they try to approach a clinic. On the other hand, the pro-choice folks are so worried about giving any ammunition to the anti-abortion crowd that they shy away from talking about the emotions that women and their partners might feel when they’re thinking about or have had an abortion. That creates a vacuum which leaves people few options for support.
Exhale was founded in 2000 in order to try to change that. Rather than focusing on the political fights around abortion, Exhale’s mission is to give people room to share their stories, explore their experiences, and get support. The pro-voice approach creates a space for people to have their feelings about their abortions, regardless of their political or religious beliefs. That offers more opportunities for women and their partners to regain their equilibrium and find healing.
I’ve been tangentially involved with Exhale since the beginning. Twice a year, I train the volunteer talkine counselors in talking with men. Since Exhale also supports partners, family members, and friends of women who have had abortions, about one caller in twelve is a man. And because of the different ways that many men deal with challenging emotions compared to women, I help the counselors develop a deeper understanding of how to support them, which helps guys support the women in their lives.
I’ve seen the power of the pro-voice perspective in action. I’ve talked with the Exhale staff and volunteers about the ways in which it gives callers room to have their experiences, and how transformative it is for them to have a safe place to talk about them. And I’ve seen how the pro-voice approach cuts through the arguments and centers things where they belong: in the hearts and words of the people who have had abortions and the people close to them.
So when I heard that Aspen Baker, one of the founders of Exhale, had written a book, I couldn’t wait to get a copy of it. Pro-Voice: How to Keep Listening When the World Wants a Fight is a book that I think everyone interested in sexuality, relationships, health, feminism, women’s equality, and sexual politics needs to read. Aspen discusses the history of the abortion fights and identifies the roots of our current situation with clarity and compassion. She talks about the ways in which abortion and gender equality are intimately linked. And she explains the impact of the pro-voice approach with case studies, stories from Exhale’s history, and the responses they have received from talkline callers and participants in workshops. It’s a powerful look at the issues that people get bogged down in, and it offers the most effective way forward. Pro-voice sounds simple, but like all important things, simple doesn’t equal easy.
I’m also excited to announce that I recently became a member of Exhale’s board of directors, and that we’re planning a book launch party at the Oakland Museum of CA. Pro-Voice Takes the Stage will be an amazing night for the organization, and ticket proceeds and book sales will support this wonderful organization. If you can make it, I’d love to see you there. And if you can’t attend, you can still donate to Exhale, sponsor the event, and help make sure that people’s voices continue to be heard.
Nearly three US women in ten will have an abortion. It’s time we stopped silencing them. It’s time we made room for their voices, and for the voices of the people who love them. It’s time to make pro-voice part of the abortion discussions. Pro-Voice: How to Keep Listening When the World Wants a Fight offers a blueprint for doing that. Get your copy today!