The Long Road to Destigmatizing Abortion in Early Education

Abortion doulas Carly Manes and Mar recently released a new children’s book ‘What’s an Abortion, Anyway?’ a medically accurate, non-judgemental, and gender-inclusive resource for young people about abortion care.

According to the creators, there are no published books in the U.S. for children under the age of 13 that use the word abortion, which is odd considering nearly 1 in 4 women will have one by the time they’re 45, according to Guttmacher Institute. The National Sex Education Standards recommend students 13-14-years-old understand and be able to articulate what abortion is. To reach that goal, education prior to 8th grade is necessary.

Why would we educate children on the risks of unplanned pregnancy and not the resulting options: abortion, adoption, or continuing the pregnancy?

Research shows comprehensive sex education helps young people reduce risky sexual behavior, prevent childhood sexual abuse, and decrease intimate partner violence. Despite mounting evidence and cultural support for inclusive sex education, institutions aren’t ready. 

According to Manes, many publishers and agents who responded to her outreach rejected the book. “Time and again, we were told that no one would dare print a children’s book on such a stigmatized topic,” they wrote on the book's Kickstarter. “We were told it was obscene and inappropriate.” After difficulty getting financial support, they decided to self-fund the project based on overwhelming community interest. The distribution challenges of getting the book published and released speak to the structural reluctance to buck norms and destigmatize abortion care conversations.

And it's not only the publishing world that’s having a hard time getting on board. There are no federal mandates for sex education across the U.S. and state and local laws vary widely on the required content and age appropriateness. In some states, sex education alone is controversial. Out of the 36 states that mandate some form of sex education, only 18 states require it be medically accurate

If national standards on sex education are lacking, standards on inclusive sex-education are further behindespecially when it comes to abortion and LGBTQ+ issues.

In May, the Human Rights Campaign with other sexual health advocacy groups released a call for action to increase LGBTQ+ inclusive sex education. This, in addition to gender-inclusive resources for young people, like "What's an Abortion, Anyway?" are critical to giving the next generation more agency over their bodies and medical decisions regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

To that end, “What’s an Abortion, Anyway?” doesn't treat abortion care as women’s issue but rather a common and genderless medical procedure. On the book’s website, Manes explains, “The language used is devoid of gender or a traditional narrative arc due to the expansive, complex nature of abortion care. To use a traditional narrative arc would be to erase the millions of individual stories and reasons that people seek abortion care.”
We couldn't agree more.