An ad campaign for the organization Abortion Changes You has run for the last month in New York City subways. The ads picture wistful looking women and men, even a child, alongside statements like, “My child would have been 6 years old”; “I thought I was helping my girlfriend”; and “My mom is hurting and I don’t know how to help her,” followed by the tagline “Abortion changes you.”
“So does pregnancy,” was the cry heard around the feminist blogosphere when the ads appeared. One 7 train rider took matters into her own hands and pasted beneath the ad’s statement, “I thought life would be the way it was before” a typed, printed sign that reads, “Now I can go to college & fulfill my dreams.” (See the above photo).
As Susan Domino wrote in the New York Times , the ads feel dishonest, apparently pushing an anti-abortion message in the guise of offering support. According to Domino, ACY founder Michaelene Fredenburg insists that the site is apolitical. Yet none of the Abortion Changes You ads acknowledge that there are circumstances in which abortion is a woman’s best option. Abortionchangesyou.com invites visitors to share their negative experiences of abortion. The majority of the posts contribute to the site’s portrayal of abortion as a legal, self-inflicted trauma for the whole family.
I called Fredenburg to ask her about the campaign. She told me that the organization is not anti-abortion, nor is the name, which she said “means something different for each person.” She called the posters a “gentle invitation” to men and women to discuss their experiences. It’s an invitation Fredenburg, who regularly speaks to college health classes about facing negative emotions after abortion, wishes she had received in the aftermath of the abortion she had when she was 18. The campaign, she said, grew out of the unexpected despair and isolation she felt following her abortion and her fear of encountering “indifference or judgment” in anyone she spoke to about it. She assumed that there were others like her, which the public response to the campaign seems to confirm. Fredenburg said that as of last Friday, 1,000 New Yorkers had responded to the current campaign. When the campaign first ran in the NYC subway system in October 2008, she said, 1,700 New Yorkers wrote in to the site.
Abortion Changes You is not the only post-abortion support organization claiming to be apolitical. Afterabortion.com , for instance, openly addresses the question of its political stance. Despite its somewhat loopy defense of PASS (Post Abortion Stress Syndrome), whose existence many experts question and many pro-choicers dismiss as a pro-life scare tactic , afterabortion.com very coherently answers questions like “Is this a Pro-Choice or Pro-Life Site?” and “Doesn’t having PASS problems mean I am ‘prolife’, or ‘regret my decision’?” The site’s response to the latter is that emotional distress is “not expereicned [sic] only by women who are prolife, or who regret their abortion. There are plenty of prochoice women … who feel their abortion was the right choice, and don’t regret it, yet still have problems with PASS.”
In contrast, Abortionchangesyou.com doesn’t address the question of its political position at all, which is presumably why the Vitae Caring Foundation , the self-described “advertising campaign for life,” was willing to order the ads from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on ACY’s behalf. (Fredenburg’s explanation is that she “did not have a particular connection to do that out in New York” but knew that Vitae Caring did.) Gary H. Strauss, the psychologist who wrote the final chapter of Fredenburg’s book, Changed , is a member of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies and teaches at Biola University, an evangelical Christian institution. Fredenburg declined to disclose to the Times or DoubleX who funds Abortion Changes You, but she did tell me that ACY would be willing to partner with any organization whose objectives were in line with its mission to be “a refuge for those who wish to tell their story and begin the process of healing.” That such an organization might also present abortion as a tragic mistake destined to haunt a woman for years didn’t seem to concern her.
After all, that is what abortion was for Fredenburg. There’s no doubt that she deeply regrets terminating her first pregnancy and her own naiveté about how doing so could affect her. It’s not hard to imagine someone in her position being anti-choice. I believe that Fredenburg cares about providing people on whom abortion has had an impact with an accepting forum for discussing their experiences. She may even genuinely believe that Abortion Changes You has achieved political neutrality. Regardless, the ads come across as not just political but manipulative as well.
Image via ReproRights Twitter Feed .