The TED Talk You Won’t Hear

Danayit Musse

Though "Technology, Entertainment, Design" (TED) conferences were established as a platform for "ideas worth spreading," apparently those don't include abortion rights. The absence of pro-choice TED talks isn’t just a coincidence; according to officials, it’s the result of a conference ban. The Nation’s Jessica Valenti broke the story on Wednesday with a report on her experience at TEDWomen, a TED conference spin-off with a female-empowerment twist. Valenti writes: I realized I hadn’t heard anyone mention abortion—an odd lapse in a conference on women’s rights. Soon after, I discovered that TED and TEDWomen have never featured a talk on abortion. (Two TEDx events have, but these local, independently organized conferences are not conducted under the auspices of TED.) When I asked around, the consensus was that the omission was simply an oversight. But it turns out TED is deliberately keeping abortion off the agenda. When asked for comment, TED content director and TEDWomen co-host Kelly Stoetzel said that abortion did not fit into their focus on "wider issues of justice, inequality and human rights." On Thursday, NARAL Pro-Choice America requested that TED lift the ban. In a letter penned by President Ilyse Hogue, Hogue wrote: It is precisely because an honest conversation about reproductive freedom and access to all methods of family planning explores core issues of autonomy, self-determination and sovereignty that we feel it fits squarely within TED's mission of spreading ideas with the power to change attitudes, lives and ultimately the world. The intersection of abortion access and human rights is at the forefront of the cultural conversation … [and] the hesitation to discuss these issues among inspired thinkers, writers, scientists and advocates prevents us from moving forward into an enlightened future.

Danayit Musse is a Spring 2014 editorial intern.
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