Kate Cockrill and Steph Herold launched the Sea Change Program in 2013 to help transform the culture of stigma around abortion and other stigmatized reproductive experiences. From 2013-2018, the Sea Change Program conducted research, designed programs, and evaluated projects to figure out what works and doesn't work to create culture change around reproduction. We were known for our strong analysis of stigma, clear vision for change, passion for collaboration and partnership, and sense of humor and comradery. Over the years, our dedicated staff included Roula AbiSamra, Madeline Blodgett, Elizabeth Greenblatt, Lauren Himiak, Grace Klein, and Elisette Weiss.
People often find conversations around reproductive experiences like abortion, contraception and unintended pregnancy awkward. This is especially true when talking with someone they suspect holds judgmental attitudes.
In the Untold Stories Project, Sea Change commissioned storytellers across the United State from diverse backgrounds to write down their experiences with reproduction, abortion, infertility, being intersex and more. We published them in a book and provided this book free to people across the United States, and we supported them to reach out to their friends and family and start a book club. These books clubs provided ways to discuss reproductive health topics in a less awkward, more structured way. Sea Change provided questions to foster conversation after each chapter, and offered suggestions for setting up living room discussions. We also guided the storytellers in sharing their experiences with the media. And to make sure all women’s experience were represented, we tailored the project to include a range of stories and diverse storytellers.
The Untold Stories Project brought conversations about culture change into more than a hundred living rooms and university classrooms across the country. Based on what we learned, we expanded to classrooms and even designed a card game.
In June 2012, Kate Cockrill worked with colleagues at Ipas to hold the first international meeting on abortion stigma in Bellagio, Italy. Researchers, practitioners, and advocates from 11 countries participated in an intensive meeting on abortion stigma to refine a conceptual framework for abortion stigma and set a future learning agenda to guide research and programmatic efforts to address abortion stigma. In 2013, a small advisory group from the Bellagio meeting launched the International Network for the Reduction of Abortion Discrimination and Stigma (inroads). Steph Herold and Madeline Blodgett both served as steering committee members for inroads helping the organization to launch grants to small international organizations, share materials in collaborative workspaces, and produce a communications guide for advocates on how to communicate about abortion in places where abortion is illegal.
In November of 2015, we partnered with the nationally renowned Berkeley Media Studies Group to conduct the first-ever retrospective study of how stigma appears in news coverage of abortion in the United States. In January of 2017, we published “Shaping stigma: An analysis of mainstream print and online news coverage of abortion, 2014–2015,” a report co-authored with BMSG, on how abortion stigma appears in news coverage of abortion in the U.S.
Next we worked to design a strategy to fight abortion stigma in the media. But first, we and our partners needed to understand the people who participate in media making. To this end, we designed and conducted a qualitative study to investigate how and why journalists cover abortion, what might make abortion different from other issues on which journalists report, and what journalists learn in the process of covering abortion. We partnered with University of California, San Francisco’s ANSIRH to analyze our interviews with journalists writing about abortion. The academic paper presenting those findings, “ ‘The stakes are so high’: Interviews with progressive journalists reporting on abortion,” was published in Contraception in September 2017.
In 2015, Sea Change worked with young parent advocates and researchers to develop a white paper and conceptual model of the stigma young parents experience. Our paper, From Severe Stigma to Powerful Resilience: Youth Sexuality, Parenting and the Power of Structural Support, shares the current thinking and research backing for combatting stigmatization of young parents. We’ve since conducted a national survey to assess young parent stigma, and from those results have developed a validated scale to measure the stigma that young parents face; please visit NoTeenShame to access information about the scale.
When it comes to shifting the stigma around abortion in US culture, what can reproductive health, rights and justice leaders create together that they could not alone? From September 2016 to February 2017, this driving question led Sea Change to convene the first meeting of the Culture Change Strategy Group, a collaboration of top thinkers, artists, researchers, and advocates in reproductive health, rights and justice. With a strong commitment to shared leadership, this strategic collaboration was designed and facilitated by SisterSong, Advocates for Youth, CoreAlign, and Thrive Training and Consulting, among others. Working together, the CCSG created an aligned vision, values, and strategies to shift culture around abortion. In January 2018, more than 160 organizations from the US and around the world signed onto the shared vision statement and shared the vision in a collaborative social media campaign with the hashtag #vision4abortion.
When Planned Parenthood wanted to understand the impact of their virtual reality film about accessing abortion in America, Across the Line, they turned to Sea Change. Sea Change implemented a mixed-methods evaluation at the film's first three public viewings (at Sundance Film Festival, South by Southwest, and the Cleveland International Film Festival). The evaluation revealed that those who had seen the film had significantly less tolerance for clinic harassment than those who had not yet seen the film. Sea Change also created and validated the first-ever scale measuring attitudes towards clinic harassment. Based on results from the evaluation, Planned Parenthood has shown the film to communities across the world.