Congressional threats to Planned Parenthood compel two Seattle women to create a national movement encouraging others to share their abortion stories.
Very few women in America want to shout about their abortions. Most don’t even talk about them much, though 1 in 3 will have one in their lifetimes.
But in recent weeks, it feels like keeping that personal decision private is a luxury that can’t be afforded anymore. Not if other women are to have the same choice in the future.
Thus, the #ShoutYourAbortion movement.
“It is unfortunate that our personal information is being wrung out of us by this anti-Planned Parenthood movement,” said Seattle writer Lindy West, who created the hashtag with her friend Amelia Bonow. “But continually running from it feeds the stigma and makes it something shameful.”
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The Guardian contributor was referring to the threat of a government shutdown by the Congressional right unless funding of Planned Parenthood was eliminated.
This attempt ultimately failed, but not before members of Congress put Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards through more than five hours of often rude and condescending questioning. They were emboldened by a series of surreptitious, heavily edited and misleading videos depicting Planned Parenthood as a front for the sales of fetal tissue.
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Out of our far corner of the country came Bonow, who penned her abortion story for Salon and inspired West to create the hashtag — which has been tweeted more than 150,000 times. The idea is to encourage women to tell their own stories, to personalize and destigmatize the procedure.
For years, West said, she and her friends never spoke of their abortions, despite being progressive, pro-choice feminists.
“None of us knew each other’s stories, and that’s significant,” she explained. “People need to be open. I don’t think it’s morally wrong, and I don’t ascribe to that ideology, and I don’t feel like I should be held hostage to the rhetoric.”
To “shout,” West said, isn’t about “having a party and bragging.” It’s the opposite of whispering. It’s about not keeping quiet.
If abortion is a political football, #ShoutYourAbortion is a Hail Mary pass — women publicizing an extremely personal decision in order to save what they believe is every woman’s right.
“I truly believe that teaching women that taking control of their lives is morally wrong is a thinly shrouded effort to limit women’s prospects,” West said, “and keeping them from influencing the world in the way we’re capable of.”
In the past, abortion has often been spoken about as a necessary evil or, at best, a relief — even among those who support the right.
Even Gloria Steinem, who had an abortion at age 22 in London, told The Guardian in 2011, “Speaking for myself, I knew it was the first time I had taken responsibility for my own life. I wasn’t going to let things happen to me. I was going to direct my life, and therefore it felt positive. But still, I didn’t tell anyone.”
Bonow’s Salon piece, on the other hand, was headlined “My Abortion Made Me Happy.” It was jarring to me — at turns cavalier and provocative — with a tone that will startle feminists of older generations.
And yet, #ShoutYourAbortion feels necessary now; you have to go that far out to counterweigh the attacks, like those we saw in the House committee the other day.
It marked the start of a new and bold response to years and years of funding threats, as well as personal attacks, many of them by men who will never know what it’s like to count the days since your last period, or sit on a toilet and wait for a sign on a urine test.
As Vice President Selina Meyer on HBO’s “Veep” put it, “If men got pregnant, you could get an abortion at an ATM.”
Instead, Roe v. Wade has been on the books for 42 years, but the ink has never been allowed to dry.
For 21 years, I thought writing about abortion was enough; I never felt the need to write about my abortion. But there it is. It’s nothing I’m proud of, or happy about. It was a medical procedure that I decided on almost immediately, then calmly scheduled, paid for and went through with.
But it’s also something I have never regretted. Never.
What I have done, though, is made sure I followed through with what I told myself at the time: That if I chose not to become a mother in my 20s, it was because I wanted to finish school, start a career and grow up. I would make certain I did all those things.
And I did. I have a job, a house, responsibilities. I went on to have a child I truly wanted, whom I was able to care for and support, and who also finished college and is on his way.
If sharing that here, with people I know and many I never will, people all over the city and every wing nut with an Internet connection … well, if that is going to help people understand how important it is for women to have access to safe and legal abortions, so that they can make choices about that and everything else in their lives, so be it.
I will join thousands of other women in making a very private decision public.
Not quite, but I’ll certainly tell you.