How Should Pro-Lifers Think About Post-Abortive Shame?

The way our society uses the word “shaming” is complicated. In this post I discuss three different types of shaming and how they relate to abortion.

postabortiveshame-no-title

My views on this topic are the kind that if you only get a snippet of it out of context, there are many ways to misunderstand it. I don’t think my view is offensive, but my view improperly understood is definitely offensive several times over. It’s always good to read someone’s entire explanation instead of just part of it, but there are some topics where that’s more essential than others. This is one of the more essential cases. If you just want to skim, or you are not committed to trying to understand what my view actually is, then please don’t read this.

Dr. Leah Torres

Dr. Leah Torres

Last week I initiated an internet discussion among pro-life and pro-choice people about the best word to use for somebody who does abortions. An online acquaintance of mine Dr. Leah Torres joined our discussion to give her opinions, coming from somebody who performs abortions as a part of her OB/GYN practice.

After going back and forth a bit, I came to believe that “abortion practitioner” does the best job of not being rude and also not removing all stigma from abortion. You can read why Leah doesn’t want there to be any stigma attached to abortion here and my response here.

It was in Leah’s final comment in that thread that caused me to do some thinking on another word that started getting used a lot: shaming.

Here are the most relevant parts of Leah’s comment on shaming:

Thank you for the more detailed clarification, Josh. I would not doubt that you are against violent acts, just as I am. However I was referring to the stigmatization of abortion as that which is declaring it as morally wrong which results in shaming others. [Being] shamed results in silence. Being silenced results in oppression. Being oppressed is to incur violence in a variety of ways systematically. It is not OK for someone to call me a “murderer” because that is a) untrue b) stigmatizing my profession c) endangers my safety given the emotional response invoked by such a label. …

Performing abortions is a moral act. Having an abortion is done with moral dignity. I encourage you to try to see it from the pregnant person’s perspective. You must start there. When you are able to step into their world, you may have more compassion and less desire to stigmatize than you realize. …

Thank you for including me in this discussion. I look forward to future opportunities to participate. =)

-Leah

This is my response.

Yeah, this is helpful Leah. We’ve definitely found a lot of common ground, and the point where our ideas are consistently “butting heads” comes down to our differing views of the abortion act itself. I believe it is morally impermissible because it is an act of direct killing, and you believe that abortion is not merely morally neutral, but an act with “moral dignity.” So on the single question of whether election abortion is a moral act, we’re predictably on different planets.

Note that I’m describing where we currently are. That could of course change one day. You or I could come to think differently about abortion if we’re both open-minded, avoiding confirmation bias, and fairly weighing the arguments against each other. But at this point, we think very differently on that question.

And that disagreement is causing us to think differently about stigma and shame.

I’ve written a little about what I think about “stigma,” so now for clarity sake, let me talk a little bit about the word “shame.” I think that word is used by our society to describe a huge spectrum, and there are definitely some senses of shame that I don’t think should be felt by post-abortive people. I’ll separate my comments between three different kinds of shame:

  1. Personally felt shame;
  2. Acts of public shaming by person A directed at person B;
  3. Acts of private shaming by person A directed at person B.

Personally Felt Shame

UPDATE: As a few commenters have noted, a better word for this would be “guilt.” But since I see a lot of people using the word “shame” in this context, I’ll comment on it to differentiate it from the other two categories below.

It’s possible for people to feel shame even if nobody else is “shaming” them. Imagine a cocaine addict who keeps using but regrets it afterwards. It could be that nobody in the world besides him knows that he’s hurting himself and breaking the law, but he still feels some level of shame. I would submit that some level of shame like that is appropriate in that case. This kind of shame is connected to conscience, and it’s good for people’s consciences to be pricked for a few reasons.

  1. First, that shame can cause them to get morally better. The thief who feels shame afterwards is more likely to get morally better (if he doesn’t just block out the shame).
  2. I’ll add that a second benefit is that religiously speaking, it gives the person the opportunity to seek forgiveness and redemption. (If you’re not religious, I think the first benefit is sufficient.)

Similarly, because I think abortion is morally wrong, I think it’s appropriate for a post-abortive woman to feel some level of shame. It could actually be good for her.

Obviously that could go too far. In the case of the post-abortive woman, I wouldn’t want her to hate herself or want to kill herself because she feels so ashamed. But if she feels a little bit of shame that motivates her to stop or get help, that seems like a good thing for her, not a bad thing.

You’re going to think very differently about that case, Leah, because you don’t think abortion is morally wrong, so you think any feelings of shame that people would have would be inappropriate. It would be like if someone was trained by society to believe that eating chocolate was sinful, and then every time that person eats a chocolate bar, he feels really ashamed. That would be an inappropriate shame, because he hasn’t done anything wrong by simply eating chocolate, but he feels like he has anyway because he was badly morally trained.

Now you might respond that the only reason a post-abortive person would feel personal shame is because pro-lifers have stigmatized abortion. And I would respond that abortion is the kind of act that ought to be stigmatized in the sense that we don’t talk about it as if it’s morally neutral because it directly kills babies. So once again, we’d be back to the central question, “Is elective abortion morally wrong?”

Public Shaming

I recently read a pretty interesting book, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” by Jon Ronson. It discussed the relatively recent phenomena of people using the internet to not only shame people but to attempt to ruin their lives. (I’m not going to recommend the book to my readers, as there is a fairly graphic description of an orgy, in the context of the author exploring communities that try to completely eliminate all feelings of shame from their lives.) Most of the book is telling stories from some of the most famous examples of recent public shaming from the perspective of the person shamed, and some of the book is exploring the concept of public shaming itself. After all, punishing people by putting them into the stocks to publicly shame them was rightly made illegal in most states a long time ago, because it was believed that the harm done to someone’s reputation could basically ruin their life.

Reading the stories of people who’ve been publicly shamed gave me great empathy for them. They were rarely innocent, mind you. They usually had done or said something incredibly stupid or disrespectful, but they don’t deserve for their lives to be ruined as a result. Women especially have often been shamed by idiots on the internet who are using the strongest language they can think of, using real threats of violence. I won’t give graphic examples here because I want to respect the people reading this who have sexual violence in their histories. Just trust me when I say, people on the internet can be truly awful. I’m sure you’ve experienced some of this yourself, which if that’s true, I feel awful about. :(

Everybody here can agree that that is a kind of shaming that should never be done. Think of this as one extreme of a spectrum of things that can cause a person to feel “shame” in public.

An example of the other extreme end of the spectrum could be me walking onstage to give a speech and a pro-choice person in the audience booing me.

Let’s think for a second about what it is that makes the second example so much milder than the first.

  1. I think one of the factors is how extreme (or not extreme) the individual act of public shaming is. There’s a huge difference between being threatened with rape and someone booing you.
  2. There’s also the amount of people doing said shaming. In my booing example, it would be one person. In some of the cases in Jon Ronson’s book, there would be thousands or more acts of shaming. People aren’t typically emotionally prepared to handle something like that.

Generally speaking, I’m opposed to the use of public shame with abortion. So for example I’m opposed to people hanging outside abortion clinics yelling “MURDERER” at clients. I’m not in favor of people publishing abortion practitioner’s addresses so their neighbors can hassle them, or trying to “out” celebrities who are post-abortive. There could probably be some exceptions to this rule, such as a Gosnell-like person, so I’m uncomfortable making an absolute statement here. But at least in general, I’m opposed to public shaming with abortion acts, largely because I don’t think it helps anyone.

I think some pro-choice people would go farther than that though and say that me making a moral argument against abortion in public, even on a blog or on Facebook, is an act of shaming because a post-abortive person could hear or read that argument and feel shamed. I don’t think that’s an act of shaming though. There’s clearly no intent to shame people and if someone as a result feels shame, it seems like this should go in the first category of personally felt shame. If we’re going to say that nobody should be allowed to debate topics in public that could possibly cause somebody to feel shame, nobody will be talking about anything important in public. Clearly that’s not the way for our society to move forward.

Private Shaming

Now let’s go back to the thought experiment about the cocaine addict. I think it’s pretty clear that him feeling some level of personal shame is a good thing for him, but that’s probably more clear because nobody else is wagging their proverbial finger at him. Would it be appropriate for a friend to call him out in private?

I think the devil is in the details here. Obviously a person shouldn’t jeer at him and call him derogatory names. But imagine a friend of his said, “I care about you, and because I care about you I’m going to say the hard thing. What you’re doing is wrong. It’s hurting you, and you need help.” That sounds to me like a good friend.

I’m sure somebody out there would cry, “BUT HE’S SHAMING HIS FRIEND! YOU SHOULD NEVER EVER DO THAT!” And I would argue that IF that counts as shaming, it’s appropriate shaming because of how it’s handled and the intent of the friend. He’s trying to help, and not to hurt. (It’s like chemotherapy. It hurts, but it may be necessary to get better.) It’s also appropriate because what he’s saying is actually in his friend’s best interest. This kind of shaming seems like it would be inappropriate if either a) his intent was bad, or b) it actually is good to use cocaine.

UPDATE: As I noted to one of my Facebook followers, the appropriateness of this seems to me to be very related with how close the friends are. Read my comment for a real-life example.

In my personal view, the above example shouldn’t have the label “shaming” attached to it. It’s just too different from the very wrong act of public shaming that most people mean when they use the word.

Conclusion

If abortion is a morally unjustifiable act of direct killing, then I think there’s some level of shame that somebody would be right to feel after having an abortion, even if nobody else shames them.

I generally think it’s inappropriate to publicly shame post-abortive people, but I do think it would be appropriate for one of their friends to say, “You know where I’m at on this issue. I think abortion is really wrong. I still care about you and know you were going through a tough time, and I really don’t want to see you go through a tough time. I’m not going to condone what you did just because I care about you, but if you ever want to talk about it or come to feel like you need help, I will always be here for you.”

Both of those seem completely appropriate to me, and some would lump both in the shame category. This is what I mean when I say that I think some level of shame is appropriate if abortion is a morally impermissible act of direct killing.

I’m not going to shout at post-abortive women that they should be ashamed of themselves. But I also don’t want abortion to be de-stigmatized. I think it’s really wrong to kill unborn babies, and really harmful to the women who do it, so society coming to treat abortion like it’s a morally innocuous thing is definitely not a goal for me.

Question: What are your thoughts? Should we think of shame differently?

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  • Christina

    What if, instead of personally felt shame, it was called personally felt guilt? It might be splitting hairs but I would feel more comfortable using that term. With guilt, the person retains moral culpability and may certainly feel regret. But guilt has less emphasis on the silencing effect that shame sometimes brings to the individual. If shame becomes internalized (“I’m no good for doing this”), that might actually keep someone in a cycle of shame, whereas guilt acknowledges ownership of the wrong done and hopefully brings forgiveness/alleviation of the burden. I think guilt can have the same moral gravity and usefulness in processing a wrong done, but without trespassing into “shame” territory. And maybe this definition is what you meant when using the term “shame” but I wanted to be clear.

    • I think “personally felt guilt” is a better way to think about it. A lot of other people think of it as shame, so I included it on the list.

  • Thanks. Very well thought out.

    I just thought I found a little inconsistency between, on the one hand, putting this —

    “I care about you, and because I care about you I’m going to say the
    hard thing. What you’re doing is wrong. It’s hurting you, and you need
    help.” That sounds to me like a good friend

    — under the heading “Private Shaming” and following it with I would argue that IF that counts as shaming, it’s appropriate shaming, because . . .,

    and, on the other hand, concluding —

    In my personal view, the above example shouldn’t have the label
    “shaming” attached to it. It’s just too different from the very wrong
    act of public shaming that most people mean when they use the word.

    Don’t those last lines almost suggest that if someone’s approach is not wrong, we shouldn’t call it shaming — which in turn would suggest that shaming is necessarily wrong? .

    Also, that private-shaming example sounds to me like a friend-facilitated version of This kind of shame [personally-felt] is connected to conscience, and it’s good for people’s consciences to be pricked for a few reasons, which as you say is good.

    I would stick with “appropriate shaming.”

  • Old Man

    Paid for an abortion long ago. I feel no shame. It was moral. For my wife and I, determined to be childfree, it was the right thing to do. Had any protestor tried to stop us, I’d have bashed them in the head with a breaker bar. You don’t like abortion, DON’T FUCKING HAVE ONE. You are on the wrong side of history. Live with that.

    • Tullia_Ciceronis

      Out of curiosity, how do you feel about philosophers such as Peter Singer and Micheal Tooley, who honestly believe that infants aren’t persons because they lack full self-awareness and the ability to process rational thoughts, and thus infanticide should be legal and is a moral option in some cases, such as when the infant has a disability? It seems to me that one could use the same arguments that you are using here, such “If you don’t like infanticide, don’t kill your infant, but don’t force your anti-infanticide values on those who don’t share your belief that infants are persons.”

      • Old Man

        I’m with those philosophers. 169 percent.

        • Tullia_Ciceronis

          okay, so you support legalizing infanticide?

      • Kuni Leml

        Except that fetuses are not infants.

        Claiming that a fetus, even in the third trimester, is a person is not being “pro-life.” It is engaging in Voodoo & Witchcraft by trying to create human life where there is none.

        It is usurping God and his very clear instructions on when human life begins:

        • Genesis 2:7 – … and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
        • Job 33:4 – The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
        • Ezekiel 37:5 – … I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life.

        • Tullia_Ciceronis

          I don’t get my definition of personhood from the bible, sorry. And fetuses in utero take in oxygen and excrete carbon dioxide via the umbilical cord. Saying that they don’t breathe simply because they don’t use their lungs to do so is like saying that someone who is in a wheelchair doesn’t get around simply because they don’t use legs in order to do so.

    • Dee

      Clearly, since you are obviously okay with violence.

    • Crystal

      So said the pro-slavery and pro-nazi crowds.

      So say the sharia advocates.

      So say IS.

      Shame on you.

  • The first dictionary def. I find for “shame” as a verb is “cause to feel ashamed.” People who have done wrong can benefit from feeling ashamed. But in recent times that verb may have acquired a connotation, especially in some circles, of “coming from an uncharitable attitude, cause to feel ashamed.”

    Here we get into philological territory. We should try as far as possible to extricate the real issue from the philology. The real issue is, “Is it or is it not sometimes good, coming from the right attitude, to cause someone to feel ashamed?” I think it is sometimes good. I have benefited from being caused to feel ashamed, maybe even when the shaming person’s attitude wasn’t lily-white.

  • According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, guilt is

    “a bad feeling caused by knowing or thinking that you have done something bad or wrong”

    while shame is

    “a feeling of guilt, regret, or sadness that you have because you know you have done something wrong”

    My sense is that there is slightly more difference than that. I would say that guilt is a sense of having done something wrong, while shame is when that sense rubs off on your self-image, so that you develop a negative self-image.

    But I would say that the two inevitably go together, and that both are salutary if you really have done something wrong, and that both will be cured when you stop doing wrong and try if possible to atone for it.

    So I haven’t yet seen the advantage of “guilt.” But there may be something in the present American collective consciousness that I’m missing.

    • Dee

      By this definition I would Definately say I had abortion guilt, and abortion guilt shame. Because i was more worried about my self image for feeling guilt about the abortion than for having an abortion. In australia having an abortion is more acceptable than feeling guilt about it.

      • I appreciate your sharing your story. For one thing, the story is enlightening about one kind of pro-choice attitude. I think that attitude is to be found in some pro-choice circles in the US, also.

        But just to make sure we’re on the same page about definitions: by “self-image” I mean your picture of yourself, positive or negative — a picture that makes you happy or makes you unhappy when you look at it. If others have a negative picture of me, that won’t necessarily cause my picture of myself to become negative. Under some circumstances, it may make me think “I must be doing something right” — !

        But if I have to admit that I really have done something wrong, OR if I am unduly affected by the opinions of others, then I will internalize their negative picture of me, and I will feel “guilt that rubs off on my self-image” — my internal picture of myself will become negative (which I call shame).

  • Ironically, it seems that guilt or shame(I’m still confused on the different between those two) can be counterproductive in many cases. When people are faced with an accusation of having done something wrong, they then go into a sort of denial and try to convince themselves and others that they did the right thing.

  • Perr5

    About “abortion practitioner,” which as you note, Josh, is pulled in from the other post and the ensuing comment thread: one thing that I think “practitioner” misses, that “provider” gets, is the relationship involved. “Practitioner” kind of implies an activity that the practitioner can be doing all on their own, whether or not anyone else is participating, while “provider” gets at the fact that there is a relationship involved, between the person doing the abortion and the person getting one. Whether you prefer to think of it as a purchase transaction, as Kelsey said on the other thread, or as a gift, or as a healthcare service, or whatever, the fact remains that we are trying to find a term for the person who is “doing” an abortion for someone else. We are not talking about people who do their own abortions (I suspect) but about people who perform them or facilitate them for others. It is the “for others” that inclines me toward “provider” rather than “practitioner.” Anyway, not a biggie, just some further thoughts.

    I don’t believe that pointing out that stigmatizing people who do abortions has is harmful to them and to their patients is the same thing as saying that no one should offer moral criticism in public. (For what it’s worth, I made more or less this same observation on the other thread: https://disqus.com/home/discussion/joshbrahm/question_what_would_be_a_better_word_than_8220abortionist8221/#comment-2128864164.) Where are these pro-choice people who are saying that public debate or criticism is out of bounds? I don’t think there really are any, and so to argue against that position is to argue against a strawman.

    Stigmatization, on the other hand, is so much more than (even vehement) public debate. I’m no expert, but there seems to be a whole sociological literature dealing with stigmatization in this strong sense. A few samples from Google (and Acyutananda, this part is for you too):
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_stigma

    http://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/2757548/Klienman_StigmaSocialCultural.pdf?sequence=2

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15709941

    http://www.mentalhealth.wa.gov.au/mental_illness_and_health/mh_stigma.aspx

    Does this mean I think you shouldn’t publicly criticize certain behaviors? No. I think there are ways of disagreeing with someone and of trying to persuade them to act differently that don’t require believing them to be monsters who deserve lesser treatment or even harassment.

    I know this is partly an argument about definitions. But also, despite your disavowals (which I appreciate) of the most explicitly harmful behaviors that sometimes go by the name “pro-life,” I do worry that one effect of your efforts here will be to lend a veneer of reasonableness to the real cultural stigmatization (in the strong sense) of abortion, which ultimately leads us back to those most explicitly harmful behaviors.

    • Thanks for all the information. I will reply soon.

    • Thanks. First let’s just focus on semantics. At an early point you characterize yourself in this way:

      “pointing out that stigmatizing people who do abortions [is] harmful to them and to their patients”

      You soon go on, referring back to your word “stigmatizing”:

      “Stigmatization, on the other hand, is so much more than (even vehement) public debate. I’m no expert, but there seems to be a whole sociological literature dealing with stigmatization in this strong sense.”

      So here you have made it clear, semantically, that there are (at least) two senses of “stigmatizing/stigmatization,” strong and not-strong, and that when you had said “harmful,” it referred only to the strong sense.

      “I know this is partly an argument about definitions.”

      Yes. And let’s go on about definitions/semantics. But first, regarding “partly,” what is the other part of the argument, where we go beyond semantics? You say to Josh Brahm:

      “I do worry that one effect of your efforts [championing stigmatizing in the not-strong sense] here will be to lend a veneer of reasonableness to the very real cultural stigmatization (in the strong sense) of abortion, which ultimately leads us back to those most explicitly harmful behaviors.”

      Your argument here could be paraphrased this way: “What you say is correct (under the not-strong def. of ‘stigma’), but you shouldn’t say it because it may be misunderstood.”

      I wouldn’t consider this “shouldn’t” to be always a wrong position. It might possibly be a good position as related to abortion in a cultural context where many people think that the strong sense of “stigma” is the only sense. But we can see how a general principle of “don’t say anything correct if it might be misunderstood” might be problematical.

      Now back to semantics:

      “there seems to be a whole sociological literature dealing with stigmatization in this strong sense.”

      On the previous page I had said (first quoting you):

      “I have the feeling that ‘harassment of abortion providers, harassment of abortion-seekers, violence against clinic staff, picketing of the schools attended by the children of people who own property occupied by a medical practice where abortions are performed—all that’ is a definition of ‘stigma’ that has developed only in very recent decades and only in limited circles of society, such as pro-choice activists, and has not entered any reputable dictionary.”

      But from the links that you have provided, it seems that the mutation of the word stigma that I had noticed had a more academic origin than I had been aware of, and did not center around the abortion issue as narrowly as I had thought.

      Erving Goffman. . . . defined stigma as: The phenomenon whereby an individual with an attribute which is deeply discredited by his/her society is rejected as a result of the attribute. Stigma is a process by which the reaction of others spoils normal identity.

      That was in 1963. By the time that def. could have caught on, I had already finished college.

      Here is an example, just found on the internet, of the meaning that I grew up with:

      In our always-busy culture, doing nothing carries a stigma.

      The Wikipedia says: Stigma is a Greek word that in its origins referred to a type of marking or tattoo that was cut or burned into the skin

      But as of centuries ago, as the word became used in English at least, I think the necessity of a proactive branding got lost. The Oxford dictionary says:

      a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person

      There’s no indication how the mark got there. The Oxford says that in medicine, the word means:

      a visible sign or characteristic of a disease

      The mark was caused by the disease, not by any human agency.

      Of course a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person does involve human minds, but in the example of In our always-busy culture, doing nothing carries a stigma, it doesn’t involve “harassment, violence, picketing of the schools attended by the children,” etc., as you defined it on the other page.

      So as I said, I simply define “stigma” as “the bad reputation of an action.”

      Josh Brahm, though of a much younger generation than mine, defined it similarly on the other page: “thought of as not morally benign” (as applied to an action).

      Surely it’s good for serial killing to have a bad reputation.

      I think that for the sake of clarity of language, it would have been better for the authors of that sociological literature to have coined some new term, such as “destructive stigma,” rather than to appropriate an existing word and redefine it, and expect everybody to get on board with that new meaning. It seems that those scholars or some of their followers have tried consciously or unconsciously to impose their definition on everybody. Or maybe there was no such agency involved — maybe some people just grew up with the new meaning, and therefore, if they ever encountered the original meaning, they branded it as less-than, etc.

      Some questions remain for me about what I have called “destructive stigmatization”:

      1. If there seems to have been a conscious or unconscious attem to appropriate and redefine a particular word, even if there was some valuable academic thinking involved, does everybody have to get on board with the new meaning? (See my “It might possibly be a good position” above.)

      2. Do those stigma scholars indicate consciousness of the fact that they are engaged in an exercise of redefining?

      3. Even if stigmatization is destructive on the one hand, is it necessarily destructive overall, according to those scholars necessarily think that, overall, stigma is a bad thing? Certainly one gets that impression. For instance, the Harvard page says: definitions of stigma directly inform efforts to empirically research and combat stigma. But academics are capable of studying things without making any normative judgments. What about this, also on the Harvard page —

      smoking has become increasingly stigmatized, and smoking rates in the U.S. have substantially dropped?

      The stigmatization of smokers may have resulted in low self-esteem for them, but a lot of people have been deterred from smoking for fear of being stigmatized, so overall hasn’t that stigmatization been good? If we were to read tomorrow —

      abortion has become increasingly stigmatized, and abortion rates in the U.S. have substantially dropped

      — we might rightly have mixed feelings about it, but overall, wouldn’t that be good news?

      In fact, a recent Atlantic article Why Is the Abortion Rate Falling? said:

      Since 1990. . . . the pro-life movement really does seem to have changed American minds about the morality of abortion. Only about one-fifth of Americans wish to see abortion outlawed–a proportion that has remained steady since the mid-1970s. But the proportion that thinks abortion is wrong has edged up over the past 15 years: Only 38 percent of Americans now describe abortion as ‘morally acceptable.’

      4. If someone is beating his child, tying his child up, etc., might it sometimes be a more personal and humane approach for the neighbors to get together and harass that parent rather than send that parent to jail?

      These are just some thoughts. I don’t think that at this point I’ll come to any operative conclusion / recommendation.

      How did Hawthorne use “stigma”?

      I believe that somewhere Leah Torres said that on her blog she would also write about stigma at some point.

    • P.S.: From the links related to the stigma scholars that you provided, I get the impression that your “harassment of abortion providers, harassment of abortion-seekers, violence against clinic staff, picketing of the schools attended by the children of people who own property occupied by a medical practice where abortions are performed—all that” is even stronger than their strong sense necessarily is. Would you agree with that? I had said:

      “I have the feeling that ‘harassment of abortion providers [etc.]’ is a definition of ‘stigma’ that has developed only in very recent decades and only in limited circles of society, such as pro-choice activists . . .”

      Might that def. be prevalent only in pro-choice circles?

      • Perr5

        Hi, Acyutananda,
        I just came across this instance of what we have been calling the strong sense of stigmatization, which reminded me to check in on this thread:
        “the continued suffering of a people stigmatized since their arrival on these shores”
        It’s talking about the experience of Blacks in the U.S. (including from before it was the U.S.).

        Briefly, on this definitional issue, I would find it easier to believe that the strong meaning of stigma was original and that the not-strong meaning developed from it. Think of how strong words such as awful, awesome, terrible, wonderful, and so on used to be. But they also have their less-strong senses now.

        About this comment of mine:
        “I do worry that one effect of your efforts here will be to lend a veneer of reasonableness to the very real cultural stigmatization (in the strong sense) of abortion, which ultimately leads us back to those most explicitly harmful behaviors.”
        I made a conscious choice here to share my personal perspective rather than tell Josh what to do, hence “I worry” rather than “you shouldn’t” (your paraphrase).

        Also, you mentioned smokers. Your comment gets directly at my question: is the price exacted through stigmatization—even in the less-strong sense, since personally I worry about what it gives cover to—is the price exacted through stigmatization worth whatever change in behavior may or may not result? For example, your comment assumes that it’s better to think poorly of yourself than to smoke regularly. I don’t think that is self-evident, and I also don’t think that’s a judgment call that other people should be making for the smoker—or for people who do abortions or who get them.

        • Thanks.

          “I would find it easier to believe that the strong meaning of stigma was original”

          I agree that the original Greek meaning seems to have been strong. What I had suggested was that by the time it entered the English language, it was not strong. I would guess it might have become figurative. I would guess a not-strong meaning might have been around in English for centuries before Goffman. Further research, I guess. How does Hawthorne use it?

          “your comment assumes that it’s better to think poorly of yourself than to smoke regularly.”

          No, my comment doesn’t assume that there is any group who smoke little or don’t smoke at all yet think poorly of themselves. My comment was:

          “The stigmatization of smokers may have resulted in low self-esteem for
          them, but a lot of people have been deterred from smoking for fear of
          being stigmatized, so overall hasn’t that stigmatization been good?”

          The good is the numbers of people deterred from smoking for fear of
          being stigmatized, who neither smoke nor have low self-esteem. They may never have smoked. Similarly, someone deterred from getting abortion or performing abortion, for fear of
          being stigmatized, would neither abort nor have low self-esteem.

          Now I have further edited the edited part of my “Thanks. First let’s just focus on semantics” post.

    • S.E. Cupp yesterday in the Chicago Tribune:

      But Nucatola can speak that way because our culture has so aggressively normalized what used to be a lamentable, last, worst option for a woman. In their zeal to make abortion culturally acceptable to a religious and center-right country, abortion supporters removed a necessary and important stigma that should exist so that teenagers weigh the consequences of sex, and so that women think very carefully about taking the lives of their unborn children. I am certain many women do, but that’s not thanks to Planned Parenthood’s cavalier sales pitches.

  • Dee

    After I had my first abortion I was shamed for feeling grief. To the point teachers would punish me if I skipped class to see my counselor, and my mother actually rang and abused the counselor for speaking to me. “Get over it” was said to me more than once, by more than one person. I think this is why I found my second abortion so easy, as I knew it was more socially acceptable to have an abortion than to grieve one. I think that’s the idea of abortion shame shaming, to make people accept abortion as normal.

    • Crystal

      I feel for you.

      I also have seen commenters who believe in abortion “rights” sneer at women who have had abortions and then publicly turned against abortion as a practice, despite the fact abortion seemed to obtain for them a nice house and car rather than the dumpster.

      If it’s really a product of religious brainwashing then why do people have to suppress an inward grief that is unrelated to religion??

      Advocates for abortion are not always honest about these things.

      Hugs.