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Maryland ‘spa’ clinic offers new approach to abortion

WASHINGTON — With its natural wood floors and plush upholstery, Carafem aims to feel more like a spa than a medical clinic. But the slick ads set to go up in Metro stations across the Washington region leave nothing to doubt: “Abortion. Yeah, we do that.”

The clinic, which opened at the end of March in Friendship Heights, Md., specializes in the abortion pill and will be unique for its advertising. Its unabashed approach also reflects a new push to destigmatize the nation’s most controversial medical procedure by talking about it openly and unapologetically.

Plagued by political setbacks in recent years, abortion-rights activists are now seeking to normalize abortion, to put a human face — and in some cases, even a positive spin — on the procedure.


In Los Angeles County, groups recently sent women door-to-door in conservative neighborhoods to talk about their abortion experiences in the hopes of changing minds.

A series of Democratic lawmakers have publicly acknowledged having undergone the procedure. And new online projects solicit personal testimonials, including from women who have no regrets about terminating their pregnancies.

At Carafem, staff members plan to greet clients with warm teas, comfortable robes, and a matter-of-fact attitude.

“We don’t want to talk in hushed tones,” Carafem president Christopher Purdy said. “We use the A-word.”

The campaign comes as the abortion-rights movement is struggling politically. Since 2010, states have enacted more than 200 laws restricting the procedure and dozens of clinics have closed. Groups on both sides agree that antiabortion activists have the momentum, with a simpler message — “abortion kills” — and a gut-level emotional appeal.

Even Americans who support abortion rights are often deeply conflicted about the procedure. Although a majority of Americans say abortion should be available in most cases, polls show roughly half of those surveyed also think abortion is morally wrong.


“Most people in this country do not think abortion is a good thing on its face, even if they deeply believe it should be legal,” said Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, director of social policy and politics for Third Way.

Hatalsky praised efforts to “destigmatize” the procedure, which she said is attracting a passionate new crop of young activists to the movement.

Groups such as Planned Parenthood are trying to walk a fine line, appealing to these young activists while also remaining palatable to the majority of Americans who are conflicted.

“We still do a lot of work with people who are less supportive of abortion, and one way we need to communicate is in a more empathetic framework that kind of says, ‘Look, these are really complicated personal issues,’ ” Planned Parenthood spokesman Eric Ferrero said, but “we also need to be unapologetic and bold” to connect with young people.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an antiabortion group, predicts the approach will fail. Even people who support abortion rights “don’t necessarily see it as something to celebrate,” she said.

Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, a prominent antiabortion group, agreed. Tobias said she thinks people will be “disgusted” by Carafem. “Abortion is not pleasant,” she said, “and try-
ing to put pretty wrappings around the procedure isn’t going to make any difference.”