Juliana Tyson’s Story-Driven Campaign For A Woman’s Right To Choose
By Molly Shalgos on 05/30/2012 | Read more from Molly Shalgos
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In a time when a woman’s right to contraception and reproductive healthcare has come under increasingly intense fire, Juliana Tyson is speaking out. Her mission: to help eradicate the stigma surrounding abortion with her storytelling project ProMYLife.
The inspiration for the campaign came to aspiring actress Juliana one morning while she was preparing for an audition. “I had the television on in the background, tuned to the Style Network. The Style Network’s programming, for the most part, is geared towards the empowered woman. And I was shocked to see a pro-life commercial that opens with “If you were born after the year 1975, your mother could have chosen to kill you.” It featured a bunch of young children going “Thanks, Mom!” I was horrified,” she says. “And I was especially sick and tired of the entire pro-life campaign using abortion as their tool to say “women are murderers. They are anti-life, they are choosing to take away the most precious gift of all, life on earth, by having an abortion.” At the core of its campaign, they’re saying that the life the woman has herself is not as important as the fetus inside of her.”
In response, Juliana created the ProMYLife project, a forum for women to come together and share their stories of the life they saved when they chose to have an abortion – their own. The stories and interviews are anonymous. All that is required for publication is one factual piece of information, such as the storyteller’s religion, hometown, or ethnicity; or, in Juliana’s words, “anything to show that they’re on the spectrum” in order to demonstrate that there’s not only one type of woman who exercises her right to choose.
“That is the biggest myth I want to dispel,” she says. “We’re not just liberals, we’re not just conservatives – it’s women who don’t want children or just don’t want them right then. Women who think ‘I don’t want to bring a child into the world that I can’t take care of and I can’t go through the pregnancy and all the medical expenses and the physical and emotional toll.’”
“I think there are shades of gray in story, unlike policy and political debates and legislation. There’s such beautiful gray. It’ll never be cut and dry because it deals with human life, and the beautiful part of sharing a story is you debunk and de-villainize the people who have experience with this issue,” she continues. “It’s a much less accusatory way of hearing people talk about a very controversial issue.”
In fact, Juliana believes in the message of her project so strongly that she willingly submitted her personal experience with abortion to the project – a decision that she found difficult and painful to relive, but ultimately necessary to the project’s mission statement. “I felt that I couldn’t really champion something like this unless I shared my own story. I thought it would be hypocritical,” she says. “The effectiveness of this campaign requires standing up and saying “I have nothing to be ashamed about”, and if I truly believed that, I had to do it myself. I come from an incredibly privileged, religiously influenced private school background. I had every opportunity at my fingertips for education and access to contraception, and even with all that, I ended up in a set of circumstances where I got pregnant, even though I was responsible and in a monogamous relationship.”
The decision was incredibly difficult, and Juliana found herself judging her own actions harshly, in spite of the fact that she identifies as a pro-choice liberal. The turning point came several months later, when a friend called and asked Juliana to accompany her for her own abortion. “It was such an eye opener,” she says. “I put myself through fucking hell, but I realized I wasn’t judging my friend for this decision at all. I could be so supportive of others – why couldn’t I be this supportive of myself? This is the problem at the root of the pro-life movement. It’s pushing us to not value self, and that’s really frustrating.”
The message is especially important lately, in the current climate where a woman’s access to birth control is up for debate. We’re sluts if we take birth control, we’re murderers if we choose abortion, and if we refuse to have sex, we’re frigid. Right now, the burden and consequences of sex fall solely on the shoulders of women, and it’s an attitude that needs to change. “We need to believe that it’s okay to have sex. We need to take away the guilt and shame of having sex,” Juliana agrees. “Until we start holding our men as socially, publically, and legislatively responsible for pregnancy as women are, things won’t change. Telling people to not have sex – well, that’s the same as telling them not to be human. It’s part of the human experience, and I’m sick of the shame surrounding it.”
Submit your story to ProMYLife at promylife.org
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