On February 22nd, I was invited to give the first-ever TED talk from the pro-life position in the world.
It was a special moment for our movement. The organizers of TEDxGrandCanyonUniversity courageously stuck their necks out to feature our message — over the competing messages of over 100 other well-qualified applicants. My team and I spent a lot of time working to articulate the pro-life heart in a way that would resonate with the intellectual, creative, entrepreneurial TED audience. The talk was deeply personal. And I walked off the stage to a standing ovation.
Last fall, I applied to speak at TEDxGCU, after personally interviewing hundreds of strangers on unplanned pregnancy and abortion for The Voices Docuseries. But I didn’t expect anything.
The abortion issue’s journey to the TED and TEDx stages has been a difficult one. In 2014, Jessica Valenti, a NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) Board member, wondered why there had never been a TED talk about abortion. She asked TED content director Kelly Stoeztel why that was. Kelly responded: “We tend to focus on wider issues of justice, inequality and human rights. Abortion is more of a topical issue that we wouldn’t take a position on, any more than we’d take a position on a state tax bill.”
That response didn’t sit too well with Jessica — or anyone else. No matter where you stand, you believe that abortion is about all three: justice, inequality, and human rights.
It’s baffling that it took so long, but to their credit, TED clarified their response and quickly changed course. Since then, TED and TEDx have released eight illuminating talks on the abortion issue. And I’ve learned a lot. Aspen Baker (“a better way to talk about abortion”), Amanda Bradley (“Abortion isn’t on any women’s bucket list”), and Tracy Kobukindo (“The hard truth about abortion”)—they’ve inspired me to think more deeply and compassionately on this issue. I don’t agree with them on everything, but I believe the world is better informed for hearing their perspectives.
But until my talk, only pro-choice advocates had been invited to address this issue on TED and TEDx stages around the world, including some more extreme voices—like abortionist Dr. Willie Parker.
So, February 22nd’s TEDx event welcomed a different perspective on abortion for the first time. We’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of my TED talk to YouTube ever since. I believe it has the potential to start thousands of productive, compassionate conversations on abortion and unplanned pregnancy around the world.
Four weeks back, it became obvious that TEDx had released every talk from TEDxGrandCanyonUniversity — except mine. One week passed. I worried TEDx might be getting cold feet. The crew at TEDxGrandCanyonUniversity was worried too and reached out to ask why. They had trouble getting a phone call.
But eventually, TEDx released the talk to YouTube.
There was only one problem. TEDx changed the title of my talk.
“Why does that matter?” you ask.
First, I intentionally titled my talk “Abortion is a breakdown in community” to clearly drive home the main point of my talk and hint at the vision of our movement to create a world where every human life is valued and where no one faces unplanned pregnancy alone.
Second, the YouTube formula is simple. Engaging titles get views. Uninteresting titles don’t. This wouldn’t have been a problem had the new title followed TEDx’s own guidelines (clickable, specific, active, full list here) and invoked at least some interest in the topic being discussed. Here was their title: “A conversation around abortion and community.
Theirs is an uninteresting characterization of my talk. I was the only person on stage. No “conversation” was happening that I knew of, and I’m not sure which bush I was beating “around.” But after two weeks of petitioning TEDx to use my original title, they declined to make the change.
It’s unfortunate. I had hoped TEDx would display an equal amount of enthusiasm for my talk as for the others they have released on the same issue by speakers who hold a generally different viewpoint.
And that’s why I need your help. If you’ve never heard a truly compassionate presentation on abortion, I challenge you to watch it with an open heart. And if you’re excited, like me, that TEDx welcomed a new perspective to the stage, I ask you to share it with the people in your life, adding your own commentary when you do.
My experience with TEDx wasn’t perfect, but I’m grateful for the courage they’ve shown by opening their platform to a new perspective on the issue of abortion and unplanned pregnancy and for inviting the productive conversation that will ensue. This takes a stomach for diversity and inclusion not often possessed by organizations of influence like TED.
That’s why I am encouraged and full of hope that this moment will pave the way for compassionate pro-life voices with great ideas to make many more appearances on the red TED carpet moving forward.
How you can help spread the word:
1. Watch the talk at vftv.org/tedtalk.
2. Share the talk on social media or with friends via email/text, adding your commentary when you do.
3. Join our VFTV Supporters Facebook Group to help our message reach millions of people online.
*Special Thanks to Dom, Justin, Kiara, Kat, and the whole team at TEDxGrandCanyonUniversity, who’ve helped me formulate my ideas for the TEDx stage and advocated for my talk with understanding and great enthusiasm throughout the whole process. I’m humbled by your courage bringing new ideas to the stage and honored to be a part of such an incredible event.
*TEDx refers to a series of independently organized events, licensed by TED and hosted around the globe.
Josiah Friedman is the Founder and CEO of Voices for the Voiceless, the nonprofit cultural movement creating a world where no one faces unplanned pregnancy alone and where every person’s life is valued. Every day, he works to equip communities to support the people in their lives facing unplanned pregnancies. To book Josiah for a presentation to your group, university, high school, business or church, reach out here.
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