Wonder Women: Aspen Baker and the Pro-Voice Community

Speaking openly about her personal experiences with abortion and bringing together a pro-voice community of people who have also connected on a personal level to abortion, whatever their experience may be, Aspen Baker has caught our attention with her thought-provoking TED talk.

Abortion is extremely common. In America, for example, one in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime, yet the strong emotions sparked by the topic - and the highly politicized rhetoric around it - leave little room for thoughtful, open debate.

An award-winning author, leader and speaker, Aspen Baker is the author of Pro-Voice: How to Keep Listening When the World Wants a Fight*and the Founder and Executive Director of Exhale, a nonprofit organisation that offers emotional support after an abortion; a Pro-Voice community which is free from judgment and politics. Not only has Aspen published her book to much acclaim,  receiving the Living Now Award's 2016 Everygreen Gold Medal for World Peace and an IPPY Bronze Medal for Current Events, Aspen has also promoted her pro-voice agenda through the TED platform, which has raised huge awareness for the pro-voice movement on an international scale. 

The importance of Aspen's campaign is palpable. As she expresses in her talk, abortion is not uncommon; we should be able to talk about it. Despite the fact that 1 in 3 women in America will have one in their lifetimes, the topic of abortion is still highly political and polarising in the US, it creates taboo in conversation and when it is discussed it is commonly distanced from any real lived experiences of women's lives.

There is a gap between what happens in politics and what happens in real life, and in that gap a battlefield mentality... and an ‘are you with us, or against us’ stance takes root.
— Aspen Baker

Shifting this political conflict to a place of conversation, Aspen proclaims, is the key purpose to her work and to her life goals. She has created Pro-Voice with the intention of promoting this conversation; conversation that is compassionate and non-judgemental. Despite the deeply personal and complex nature of the topic, and the many other personal struggles people may harbour, she wants to foster a space in which people can openly talk about the issues they have struggled with. 

It can be vulnerable and exhausting to tell our own stories when it feels like nobody cares.
— Aspen Baker

As her TED talk reveals, creating a community in the face of taboo, politics, and controversy is no easy feat. Although the hallmarks of Pro-Voice practice, "listening and storytelling", may sound like life-affirming and uplifting actions, their campaign battles against a wave of political conflict and ingrained attitudes. Yet, there is no doubt that the philosophies and foundations of Exhale and the Pro-Voice community are strong; they have every ingredient to start a new conversation. This is not about picking a side in the abortion conflict; it's about embracing the grey areas and the personal stories hiding behind the taboo. They're bringing the topic back down to a personal level, emphasising the importance of empathy, and listening to the people who have had to tackle their own personal conflicts, rather than tapping into any controversial debate. 

As with so many communities, Pro-voice is contagious, and the more it is practised the more it spreads. In her talk, Aspen opens up about her personal struggle, feeling alone, alienated, and questioning: how would I know what the right decision was? Setting out on a path to remove this stigma is so key to their campaign. Indeed, we couldn't agree more with Aspen just how valuable this sense of community really is, together with the importance of listening. Rather than focusing on the "battlefield mentality", there's so much to be said for spreading the word that women are not alone in their experiences, whichever decision they make. Sharing stories really does have the power to connect people to one another. This is real, this is human; it's not politically divisive ... but something far more radical. 

 Pro-voice humanizes political conversations, transforms oppression, and creates peace. 


Words by Lottie Franklin