TED Talk On Abortion Calls For Less Pro-Life/Pro-Choice Narratives, More Pro VOICE


If you are even remotely aware of the power of  TED Talk, then you will know what a huge deal it is that at the recent TED Women event in Monterey, California, a woman by the name of Aspen Baker gave the first ever TED Talk about abortion. Yep we said it, THAT word. It’s almost like saying “Voldemort” these days isn’t it? Well according to certain politicians anyway.

For those of us who understand the need for more conversation about abortion, we already have an idea how needed this is. For those of you who are still debating, or don’t know enough facts (other than what is given on biased mainstream media outlets) then this is worth watching.

Instead of the pro-choice vs pro-life debate that serves to isolate women into only two categories, Aspen’s radical notion is that we become a society that is pro VOICE. She is the c0founder of a non-profit called Exhale which started in 2000 as a way to address the emotional health and well-being of life after having an abortion (for individuals as well as couples).

Why is she so passionate about being a voice for this issue? Aspen grew up in a religious household who believed at the corer of their Christianity, abortion was wrong, as many religious people believe today. She was firmly against it herself, until she had one. The turning point for her was being able to talk about it openly without shame and stigma, and sadly that is still going on today.

“The dialogue around abortion in the United States has left little room for anything beyond pro-life or pro-choice. It’s political and it’s polarizing. There is a gap between what happens in politics and what happens in real life. In that gap, a battlefield mentality — are you with us or against us? — takes root,” she says.


Exhale claim they invented the idea of pro-voice as a way to bring open dialog to the public space in a way to understand (and care) that each experience is different.

“The feminist who regrets her abortion, the Catholic grateful for hers. Personal abortion experiences don’t fit neatly into one camp or the other. … If we truly listen to one another, we will hear things that demand that we shift our own perceptions. Empathy is created when we imagine ourselves in someone else’s shoes. It doesn’t mean we have to end up in the same place,” she said.

Aspen and the Exhale org are trying to spread the idea that experiences of abortion exist on a spectrum, and are not black and white.

“Pro-voice is about the real stories of real people. It can change the way abortion and so many other politicized issues are understood and discussed — from sexuality and mental health to poverty and incarceration,” she said.

It is a far cry from what is happening today in America, where abortion is once again being used as a political trump card in the lead up to the 2016 presidential election. In light of this and the out-of-hand way this issue gets used in campaign speeches, TV appearances and articles, it’s important to share facts, not just feelings.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 3 out of 10 American women will have an abortion by the time they are 45. Yet there is so much stigma and myth surrounding it. The Huffington Post shared some insightful details to shed light on these misconceptions.


First is the myth that women who have abortions are more likely to suffer from a mental illness later in life.

“Over 99.75 percent of abortions do not cause major medical problems. Less than one-quarter of 1 percent of abortions performed in the United States lead to major health complications, according to a 2014 study from the University of California, San Francisco, that tracked 55,000 women for six weeks after their abortions. The researchers note that this makes an abortion statistically about as risky as a colonoscopy,” says Huffpost.

While many women experience mixed emotions after an abortion, 95 percent of women who have abortions ultimately feel they have made the right decision, according to an August 2013 study from UCSF. While unplanned pregnancies often cause emotional stress, there is no evidence to suggest that women who choose to terminate their pregnancies will be more likely to suffer from mental health issues, according to a 2008 report from the American Psychological Association that investigated all relevant medical studies published since 1989.

Another myth is that the rate of abortion is sky rocketing. The truth is that since 1973 when the historic Roe v Wade ruling allowed legal abortions, the abortion rate has been on the decline for years, and hit its lowest level in 2011, according to the latest data available from the Guttmacher Institute. The study’s author partially credited the decline to better contraceptive use and more long-term contraceptive options, such as the IUD. This is a very important thing to remember whenever we hear the argument that shutting down abortion clinics and cutting off all access to birth control is what needs to happen.


What IS increasing is the percentage of women who do not have easy access to a safe, regulated and legal abortion clinic. Today more than 57% of women live in states that are creating hostile and discriminatory legislation when it comes to reproductive rights.

As for the argument claiming that if women had children, they would perhaps think twice about having an abortion, between 2008-2011, 72% of women seeking abortions were already mothers. This was of course during the economic crash. The lack of paid family leave in America could also be a huge contributing factor as to why women feel it is important that they are able to make their own decisions about family planning, not the state.

While the fight for abortion rights in America is ongoing, we should spare a thought for women elsewhere in the world whose rights are considerably smaller than that of American women. You may remember the recent and horrific story of a 10 year old Paraguayan girl who was raped by her stepfather. She subsequently became pregnant, and the mother, along with human rights activist groups, were seeking to end the pregnancy as they likened a 10 year old giving birth to torture. But because of antiquated laws in the country, the Ministry of Health prohibited it saying she has had no complications.

It caused major outrage around the world because clearly this girl’s emotional well-being was not factored in. Which is why organizations like Exhale are so important!

In Chile, a new campaign shedding light on their own backward abortion laws are calling for the allowance of termination based on medical conditions or rape. A series of “tutorial” videos show a very dark and twisted brand of humor where a handful of women are giving advice on how to end their pregnancy in other ways, such as falling down the stairs, or ramming their stomachs into hard objects. They were created by an NGO called Miles in support of president Michelle Bachelet’s attempt to change abortion legislation in the country.

However, the former head of UN Women, Michelle faces major opposition from the strong presence and influence of the Catholic church in Chile, as well as many politicians including some in her own party. These videos may sound like an absurd and disgusting way to present the issue, but sadly it happens every day because women are placed in position of desperation. In Chile, an accidental abortion is the only kind of abortion not considered a crime.


According to a UN report, every day in Paraguay, two girls between the ages of 10 and 14 who are victims of sexual abuse are forced to give birth. Across the rest of Latin America, a total abortion ban is also in place in El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti and Suriname.

America, it is our turn to make a difference in the lives of women. Do we want to be a nation that handles abortions like Chile and Paraguay? Or we we want to continue being a free, democratic and educated society that makes policies ensuring the safety and well-being of ALL citizen, regardless of our differences?

Interestingly, a recent Gallup poll showed that for the first time in 7 years, half of Americans today firmly believe in pro-choice. The survey says President Obama’s stance on equality is a huge factor, and we’d like to add that the increased amount of intelligence and empathy surrounding this issue is actually making a difference. We NEED to keep speaking up!

Bravo to Aspen for talking about this issue at TED Women. We hope information based on science and fact, not feelings and religion, become the norm when it comes to social narrative about abortion in America.

Hear more about her personal experience with abortion in this video interview with RH Reality Check below:





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