Strategic Communications Can Help Defend Reproductive Rights – Here’s How.
By Marian Manapsal
The past decade has brought unparalleled challenges to the state of sexual and reproductive health care access and rights. If McKenzie Scott’s unprecedented $275 million dollar donation to Planned Parenthood and its affiliates indicates anything, it’s that the fight for reproductive freedom remains critically pressing. With Texas’ S.B. 8 – a 6-week abortion ban and abortion bounty hunter law — and other states like Idaho following suit, state politicians are relentlessly chipping away at people’s constitutional right to abortion access.
Now, the Supreme Court is reviewing one such 2018 Mississippi law — a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade that could decimate the limited abortion access in this country as we know it. While Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court is significant and historic, the current ideological bend of our nation’s highest court is unsettling. All signs point to the Supreme Court unraveling Roe as soon as this summer.
It’s time to sound the alarm. Integrated communications strategies can tap into the cultural currents, and turn the tide on defending people’s health and rights. Our strategists have been fighting alongside leading organizations, and we’ve collected some insights on how to use communications for enacting change.
People First. Human-centered storytelling personalizes the true impact of harmful policies such as abortion bans. Spotlighting the faces and voices of abortion patients connects audiences to the lived experiences of real people, emphasizing the urgency to preserve abortion access. Elevating narratives that bring personal decisions, dire consequences and health risks face-to-face with political interference illustrates the urgency of reproductive freedom.
Make It Emotional. The reproductive rights and justice movements must find the most effective messages that move audiences and stakeholders in the direction of good policies. While anti-abortion proponents leverage visceral, medically inaccurate descriptions about abortion that makes their messaging pithy and digestible, our movement struggles to find messaging that is emotional, easy-to-understand, nuanced and tailored for different audiences and campaign targets.
Maximize Media Opportunities. Whether it’s normalizing abortion in pop culture or leveraging different stakeholders like state legislators, our movement must continue to find new media opportunities to drive the narrative around reproductive freedom. For example, in partnership with the State Innovation Exchange (SiX), Fenton deepened its Reproductive Freedom Leadership Council’s bench of spokespeople and raised attention to the largest showing of state legislators ever in support of legal abortion. Part of this effort included the genesis of media opportunities for lawmakers on the bench to gain exposure to new, engaged audiences.
Get The Media To Get It Right. Journalists too often repeat the same, medically inaccurate terms from anti-abortion proponents that mislead patients and perpetuate misinformation. For example, abortions later in pregnancy have been misconstrued and the science ignored in service of the anti-abortion narrative. Communications professionals must continue to correct the record with science-based, medically accurate terms when backgrounding reporters covering abortion and reproductive health care.
Make It Surround-Sound With Ads. In a digital landscape that is increasingly pay-to-play, digital ads offer the opportunity for a variety of campaigns to augment their messaging through a “surround-sound” approach. Ad campaigns can persuade voters to elect candidates up and down the ballot who are committed to protecting reproductive health and rights. Ads can be costly for smaller, grassroots organizations but the investment in a small ad campaign can return dividends both in impact, by encouraging constituents to take action in favor of reproductive freedom – and organizationally, by helping to increase donations.
Put Pressure On Platforms. Powerful platforms like Facebook and Google have a role to play in ensuring that people are getting medically accurate information. Similar to efforts to address vaccine misinformation, reproductive health must be treated similarly. Whether that means fact-checking ads or closing loopholes that allow opponents to skew the facts, these platforms can do better. Keeping the pressure on them, and calling out every incident is key to keeping the information ecosystem clean.
While there are some bright spots for the advancement and expansion of sexual and reproductive health care at the state and federal level, the rollbacks to abortion access impact millions of women of reproductive age right now. Being able to communicate our stories, values, and advocacy about abortion access in a strategic way can be powerful to changing minds, driving policy and defending our rights.
Fenton is ready to work with your team to fight for change. Get in touch with us.