Rachel Ankney lives in Memphis now, but she was an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Pittsburgh when she had her abortion. She is white and her boyfriend at the time was black, and as the couple made their way inside the clinic, protesters on the sidewalk hurled racial slurs at her boyfriend.
"I hate to be flippant about it, but my thoughts have always been, 'Did you really think that strategy was going to work?' It just shows me, adding to the reason I want to tell my story, [that] the people who are against us are not reasonable, they're not rational, they're not trying to help people. The reason that they are winning sometimes is because of our silence."
Those words are from Ankney's blog post on the new Tennessee Stories Project website, a joint project of Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region (PPGMR) and Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, as well as other community partners. The site, which officially launched this week, offers women across the state the chance to share their abortion stories in an effort to reduce the stigma around the procedure.
"One in three women will have an abortion in their lifetimes. That's a lot of people, but not a lot of people are willing to share because of the stigma," said Leah Ford, community engagement and advocacy coordinator with PPGMR. "We're collecting stories and putting them onto the website just to say, 'Here are people who have had abortions, and they've have a range of experiences, a range of feelings, and all of that is completely normal.'"
The stories are organized according to the Grand Divisions of Tennessee — West, Middle, and East — and each includes the storyteller's first name and a photo (or photo illustration for those who prefer more anonymity). The storyteller has to either live in Tennessee now or have had an abortion in the state. Those, like Ankney, who live here but had abortions in other states are fine, too. As of press time, there were only four West Tennessee stories (including Rachel's) out of 26 stories on the site, but Ford says they've got more in the pipeline.
"We have 10 to 15 more people who we're in the process of interviewing now. Some contacted us after seeing the website," Ford said.
Once a person shares a story, the Memphis Planned Parenthood office stays in contact "to make sure our storytellers are really engaged through the process and empowered," Ford said.
"We have opportunities to stay involved after [sharing a story], like hosting a book club to talk about reproductive stigma or workshops on sharing your story more publicly if you're willing to do that," Ford said.
Although the main objective of the Tennessee Stories Project is to change the stigma around abortion, Ankney sees another benefit. When she was first considering an abortion, she couldn't find any resources online to give her an idea of how she may feel after the procedure.
"I found Planned Parenthood's website, no problem, but I couldn't go online and find out if I'd be okay or what happens if my mom finds out two weeks before or if women of faith would think I was going to hell," Ankney said. "Until it's safe to talk about it, you can go [to the website] and read about other people's experiences. Nobody's story is the same, but everybody is okay. The thing about the stigma is that it pushes the idea that people aren't okay [after an abortion], and our silence perpetuates that."
To read the stories or share a personal story, go to http://tnstories.org. Other partners in this project include CHOICES: Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, Healthy and Free Tennessee, National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, National Council of Jewish Women-TN, the Sea Change Program, and SisterReach.