Planned Parenthood’s Abortion ‘Storytelling’ Tactic Borrowed From Militant LGBT Activists

Dan Fleuette
Dan Fleuette

Just after the House of Representatives passed historic legislation that would ban abortions in the United States after the fifth month of pregnancy, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards tweeted that she “love[s] hearing stories about young people changing the world,” and linked to a story about young women “activists” on college campuses who are sharing their “positive” abortion stories.

The strategy of abortion “storytelling” – a tactic borrowed from LGBT activists – is that a person who has had an abortion talks about it openly and positively in order to elicit the empathy of listeners who might then be persuaded that abortion is normal and a good thing for women.

Richards tweeted that the future “looks mighty bright” for college abortion storytelling campaigns.

Students in some colleges around the country participated in the 1 in 3 Campaign’s “Week of Artivism” last month. The campaign’s title refers to a highly questionable statistic in which the abortion industry appears to take pride – that one in three women supposedly has had an abortion, thereby rendering the procedure “normal.”

According to pro-life organization Live Action, the campaign is based on a lie, and data from the pro-abortion research organization, the Guttmacher Institute, demonstrates that “far from being the over 33 percent required to claim, “1 in 3 women will have an abortion,” the real number is under 28 percent.

During the “storytelling” effort, young women on college campuses posted “pop-up” art displays that featured “real people’s abortion stories.”

At RH Reality Check, Katie Klabusich wrote Wednesday about students “on 95 college campuses around the country” who participated in the campaign:

Throughout these efforts, students say, labels like “pro-choice” and “pro-life” took a backseat to story-sharing—perhaps offering insight about ways that young activists, far from being apathetic or disinterested, are engaging their peers about issues of reproductive rights and justice.

That tendency to equate the personal with the political may explain the way that young activists have gravitated toward campaigns that focus on storytelling, and the “Week of Artivism” was no exception. Student organizers watched their efforts spark a dialogue on their campuses as awareness about the need for reproductive health care access led to widespread, nuanced discussion of views on abortion. They say it didn’t seem to matter whether the art was posted for a week or a day; once their peers were presented with life experiences and information they hadn’t considered before, the conversation continued in classrooms and around campus.

A similar campaign, titled “Draw the Line,” run by pro-abortion organization Center for Reproductive Rights, features celebrities sharing their positive abortion “stories” through videos.

Writing at Time, pro-life feminist and writer Kate Bryan – who serves as director of communications at American Principles Project – also observes the abortion industry’s latest trend to protect its best-selling product – readily seen in last year’s pro-abortion film Obvious Child:

What about the women who have had abortions and now regret it? What about those who decided to have their babies? Their stories matter, too.

Films such as Knocked Up, Juno, Bella, Away We Go, and most recently, Gimme Shelter, should be glorified for the real-life situations and the female empowerment that they portray. These movies show real-life situations where women become pregnant in less than ideal circumstances, but rise above the challenges and fight for true freedom and liberation. In these films, freedom is in giving life to another.

Only the institutional left, however, would come up with a strategy that aims to make abortion – and same-sex marriage – sound like a normal part of life.

Last October, Sasha Issenberg, writing at Bloomberg, noted that the architect of the storytelling initiative is a gay political activist named Dave Fleischer, who moved to California in 2009 following the passage of Proposition 8 with the plan of helping the militant gay rights movement get its agenda moving.

Previously, Fleischer had worked for Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation to get out the minority vote in 2008.

“I really enjoy solving the problem of how communities that are normally shut out can overcome the barriers of entry to be able to participate in public life,” Fleischer said, and came up with the idea that talking to people who voted against gay rights and asking them why they did so would be an effective strategy.

Fleischer instructed his canvassers at Vote for Equality, the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s campaign, to ask people how they felt about gays, why they felt the way they did, and to provide a brief personal statement about their own experience of being gay.

As Issenberg describes, in 2013, Fleischer met with Columbia University political scientist Don Green who found in his research that “seemingly minor interactions, including doorstep visits, could engage non-voters to change their behavior.”

Fleischer saw that personal storytelling could be applied to the abortion issue as well.

Observing that the pro-life movement had been successful, he said, “They’ve made people feel that to speak up and say something positive about abortion is something where you risk disapproval, then you’d be suggested to a certain amount of stigma. This is even truer around abortion than it is same-sex marriage.”

Fleischer took his strategy to Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, and had the LGBT Center manage its canvassing effort.

My hunch is,” he says, “talking about real lived experience is extraordinarily helpful in developing empathy and support.”

The millennial pro-life movement, however, had its own hunch, and has been operating on it for several years now.

In January, 2,300 high school and college students participated in the Students for Life of America (SFLA) Conference in the Washington D.C. area, the day after they demonstrated at the March for Life on the national mall.

In an interview with Breitbart News during the conference, SFLA president Kristan Hawkins observed that 75 percent of the participants in the March for Life were younger than 25 years old.

“So, these are our students,” she said. “I love action, I love getting out and showing the nation that this is the ‘Pro-Life Generation.’”

Hawkins added that the SFLA conference – where the training of young pro-lifers happens – is “the best part of the whole weekend.”

“This is where students can get trained and learn how to take all this passion they have and the excitement they felt yesterday at the March and replicate it back home on their campuses and in their communities.”

It is that teaching and training that draws millennials from more than 835 student pro-life organizations on campuses throughout the country, and enables them to tell their story.


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