Founders Of The #ShoutYourAbortion Mov’t Want To Strip Way The Stigma From Women’s Stories

pro-choice

In case you haven’t noticed there are two distinct groups in society (especially in the US) which control the narrative around women’s bodies, reproductive rights, and abortion. No prizes for guessing religion and politics. Because of their heavy influence (read Randal Balmer’s ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ for a scary in-depth look at the history of the marriage of religion and politics in America) there has been a depressing lack of space for everyday women’s voices in this area.

In early 2015 activist Aspen Baker gave the very first TED Talk about abortion, saying it needs to be less pro choice or pro life, and more pro VOICE. But come summer that same year, the whole conversation around reproductive rights was given a massive jolt when an extreme anti-choice organization released a series of undercover videos reportedly showing Planned Parenthood employees engaged in discussions about selling fetal parts for profit.

Of course if you’ve been paying attention to the news, that a Grand Jury in Texas (of all places!) recently indicted these anti-choice extremists for their manipulative lies, and every individual state that has done its own investigation into Planned Parenthood’s practices has come up empty and exonerated the healthcare provider.

Where were the women’s voices amongst this media frenzy? In September 2015 when the US House of Representatives voted on whether to federally defund Planned Parenthood (which receives roughly $500 million in Medicaid reimbursements) it sent the issue into overdrive.

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But for a small group of women, it was the start of a watershed moment, the birth of a movement started out of frustration and anger at the way their personal health and reproductive health choices were continually being taken away from them and used as a political and ideological weapon.

Amelia Bonow, Kimberly Morrison and Lindy West are the brave badasses behind the #ShoutYourAbortion hashtag and subsequent movement, which took off like wildfire. One media publication described it as abortion’s “coming out moment” much like in the LGBT community where coming out of the closest was a direct challenge to anyone who told them they should remain hidden and ashamed of who they are.

There is this idea that anyone who has had an abortion must regret it and must feel ashamed. It is absolutely foolish to make any sort of sweeping generalization on what a woman goes through when considering an abortion or how she feels afterward. What Amelia, Kimberly and Lindy have done is start a much-needed conversation driven by women, not politics or religion, on platforms where they can share their stories without shame, and find solace knowing they are not alone in their experience.

We spoke with Amelia and Kimberly to find out just how important and impactful this movement is, and why the removal of stigma from such a personal choice was the driving force.

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Amelia Bonow

Tell us how the #shoutyourabortion movement started and how it went viral?

On September 18th, The United States House of Representatives voted to defund Planned Parenthood. I spent the day in tears. On September 19th, I posted the following status on my personal Facebook page:

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Within minutes, women were filling the comments with their own abortion stories. My friend, writer Lindy West, screen-grabbed my status and tweeted it to her 61K Twitter followers. From there, #ShoutYourAbortion took on a life of its own, with the hashtag being used over 100,000 times in 24 hours. Clearly, women were ready to actively reclaim the conversation about abortion. #ShoutYourAbortion channeled their voices, their own lived experiences, their own values, and a resounding, unapologetic demand for reproductive justice. Since September 19th, over 250,000 people have used the hashtag on various social media platforms.

It seems as if the negative and condemning voices have been dominating the discussion about abortion an reproductive rights, how do pro choice advocates reclaim this in a positive light?

The most common emotional experience reported after abortion is relief, but until recently, it’s been deemed inappropriate to express anything but shame and regret following an abortion. The more that people feel comfortable sharing the complexities of their real, lived experiences with abortion, the more our perception of the procedure will broaden to include a range of emotional nuance, including relief, gratitude, and empowerment.

Stigma is a tool. In a country where the majority is soundly in favor of abortion rights, where one in three women choose abortion, ensuring that shame remains a cultural institution is the only way that our opposition can get away with legislating this abortion in a way that is so profoundly out of touch with the values and experiences of Americans.

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Why do you think it is easy to erase the voices of individual women in this issue, in favor of political, religious and statistical talking points?

When individuals have to accept some level of risk in order to speak, many will choose silence. Opponents of abortion rights have always made sure that culture remains hostile to women who speak out about abortion. But the more people who speak, the harder it is to demonize individuals. It’s a lot harder to judge and marginalize those who choose abortion when they lose anonymity and become your sister, your boss, your girlfriend, your mother. We are just ordinary people in your life. You just didn’t know you knew us until recently.

What is your ultimate goal for #shoutyourabortion?

Abortion is a complex issue for many people. No matter what your personal feelings are about abortion, the procedure is a common, legal medical procedure. Abortion is a normal part of life. I want SYA to continue to normalizing conversations about abortion, and making the world a safer place for people to speak out about their own experiences on their own terms.

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Kimberly Morrison

Shout your abortion never originally intended to be such a cultural force online for women’s reproductive rights, how did it actually start out?

After realizing we’d both had very positive experiences with abortion but feeling as though we weren’t allowed to celebrate them, Amelia and I came up with the idea to do a zine of personal abortion stories. In Sept of 2015 when the house voted to defund Planned Parenthood, Amelia put up the now infamous Facebook post, unapologetically telling the world about her abortion. Friend and writer Lindy West screen capped it and put it on Twitter (where she has over 60K followers), adding the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion.

When Amelia told me Lindy was going to share her post, we were both so excited. We’d originally wanted to avoid using Facebook for abortion story purposes, but at that point we felt it was a state of emergency. I was almost at work, but detoured home to grab my computer, ran BACK to work, and started to the #ShoutYourAbortion Facebook page, making Amelia and Lindy admins. Everything happened so quickly; we ended up using a picture of my hairy armpit with a tattoo around it that said “fuck the patriarchy”. Within 3 days, we had to take it down; even pulling all-nighters there was no possible way to keep up the needed level of moderation. By that time, it was out of our hands anyways. Amelia’s been interviewed by just about every major press outlet, and the hashtag has been used over 100,000 times!

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What was it that finally let you and Amelia to one day recognize that women don’t talk about their abortions enough and want to change that?

Amelia and I were talking one night after a few drinks and somehow abortion came up. We shared our experiences and were surprised that as loudmouthed and outspoken as we were in regards to just about every other aspect of our lives, our abortions were something we felt like we could only bring up in certain company. We both felt thankful and happy about our abortions, not sad and certainly not ashamed.

Besides the overwhelming level of relief I felt afterwards, it was pretty much a non-event. So why had we been made to feel we ought to whisper about it? Why should society dictate how any woman feels about a personal choice, especially one they know to be right?

Being part of such an important movement, especially what is going on right now with women’s reproductive rights under attack every day, in your opinion how will more women sharing about their abortion stories push back against the stigma?

Silence begets silence. Most people know someone that’s had an abortion, whether or not they know it…1 in 3 women, y’all! People fear what they don’t understand. Talking about it is the only way to normalize it. Abortion. Abortion. It isn’t a dirty word. It’s a fact of f**king life and it’s never going away.

Tell us about your abortion story and the feedback you have received from other women who hear it?

I was in a doomed relationship with a controlling partner. When I found out I was pregnant, I immediately called Planned Parenthood to schedule an abortion. It was quick, painless, and afterwards I was SO relieved. I can’t imagine what my life would be like had I not had that option. Safe and legal abortion should be available to everyone.

The feedback I’ve received from other women has been completely positive. It’s so exciting to see these conversations being embraced. Mine weren’t an especially unusual set of circumstances, but circumstances shouldn’t matter. No women should be forced to have child she doesn’t want, reason regardless.

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In a previous interview you have unashamedly spoken about how you don’t hate kids, but you don’t apologize for not wanting one and not feeling ready to have one. Why do you feel there is such a movement to condemn women who feel this way?

There is a movement to condemn women who are calm and confident in their decision not to procreate because a great number of people, consciously or not, believe women are only valuable when they’re controllable. Fear is a deadly weapon. Women are shamed and scared into hating ourselves so we won’t feel worthy of sticking up for ourselves, much less trust we know best re: life’s little decisions.

How does it make you feel personally to see all the politicians who claim they are going to “overturn Roe v Wade” if they become president, as well as the multiple laws being passed and proposed day after day to restrict a woman’s access to safe abortion?

Annoyed and exasperated. And frankly, furious. The people behind those restrictions are the same sort who want to cut welfare and shame poor families for having children they can’t afford. It seems ‘it’s a child, not a choice’ until it’s born for those on the right. The regressive legislature is a waste of everyone’s time and money. With all it costs to perpetuate this garbage, why don’t Ted Cruz/Donald Trump/et al. just build themselves a time machine to speed us back to the days when some white dude-Jesus walked the streets?

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The United Nations has just declared abortion is a universal human right, after a young woman in Peru is suing her government for forcing her to have a child even though abortion is legal in that country. How do you think this could potentially change the conversation?

This is a HUGE step in the right direction. I’m also very interested to see what implications the Zika Virus will have in this arena. Combine Latin America’s lack of access to contraception with the woefully restrictive abortion legislation in place…things may get wayyyyy worse before they get better.

What will it take for the stigma, condemnation and shame surrounding abortion to finally be a thing of the past?

Women standing strong together and refusing to participate. Talking about it is the first step to normalizing it. Don’t be afraid to say the word. Abortion! Have one! Or don’t, it’s truly not that big a deal. It shouldn’t be, anyways.

What is your advice to women who are considering abortion, or who have had one, and are too afraid to tell someone?

You are not alone, and you have nothing to be ashamed of. It’s ok to not feel sad and it’s ok to be devastated. Everyone is different. Deciding to talk about it is easy for some, and impossible for others. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, you’re normal. It’s ok. Abortion is nothing to be ashamed of.

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Aside from the hashtag which anyone can use to share their abortion experience publicly, Shout Your Abortion has a series of videos featuring women talking candidly about their abortions and give voice to an issue that for far too long has been controlled by the idea that women should be ashamed. Take a look at Amelia Bonow explaining more below:

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