In this week’s #FeministFriday post, Elle tackles the #ShoutYourAbortion movement and the way abortion apologies create a kind of respectability politics. Read on.
Even among pro-choice circles, there is a certain rhetoric of shame and guilt that surrounds abortion. When we’re defending Planned Parenthood, we’re supposed to emphasize the fact that they provide many services besides abortion such as STD testing and cancer screenings. To be fair, abortions only make up between 3 and 12% of their services, so to a certain extent it makes sense to emphasize their non-abortion health services. However, it also has a ring of respectability politics to it, as if we are saying “it’s okay to not like Planned Parenthood for performing abortions, but you should still like them because they do all of these non-abortion things.”
And when a woman has an abortion, there is a certain way she is supposed to go about it. She is supposed to have an abortion only when she has no other option. She is supposed to be wracked with guilt. She is supposed to struggle with regret. It is supposed to be the hardest decision she has ever made. Even if she made the right decision, she isn’t supposed to be happy about it. She isn’t supposed to celebrate it. Abortion is supposed to be a sadly necessary option—important to have access to, but still something that we should agonize over, and apologize for.
Which is why it’s somewhat revolutionary that the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion is currently trending. The hashtag started when Lindy West, formerly of Jezebel, tweeted a Facebook post from the writer Amelia Bonow. Bonow discussed her experience receiving an abortion from Planned Parenthood, and how the fact that she was “not forced to be a mother” gave her “totally unqualified” happiness. Bonow pointed out that much of the conversation about defunding Planned Parenthood could only happen because of “the assumption that abortion is still something to be whispered about. Plenty of people still believe that on some level—if you are a good woman—abortion is a choice which should [be] accompanied by some level of sadness, shame, or regret.”
West added the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion. Many women soon started to take part, tweeting about their own experiences, and their own lack of regret or shame. Many of them wrote about the fact that they would not have been prepared to be a parent at the time that they had the abortion, or even the fact that they did not, and still do not, want to have children. They wrote about how their own, currently-happening lives are more important than the potential lives of the cells inside of them.
Because this is the internet, there was an instantaneous backlash to the hashtag. People called the women using the hashtag shameful, immoral, disgusting, and indecent. If you peruse the hashtag on Twitter, you will also quickly find people calling the women murderers, killers, trashy, appalling, and disgraceful or “wittily” pointing out that if potential children these women could have had might like to “take part” in the hashtag but oooooh, they can’t because they were “murdered and sold for parts.” Sick burn, yo. Factually inaccurate, but sick burn. (Note: Because unlike Buzzfeed I don’t have the time and resources to track down all of the Twitter users that I’m referencing and because I’m not entirely in favor of the “public pillory” form of internet justice, I’m not linking the specific Twitter posts that I’m quoting. But I promise if you have the patience to trawl through the hashtag, you will find the posts, or ones just like them.) There’s a lot of talk about how women shouldn’t be “proud” of their “mistakes.” Because getting pregnant is totally something that only the woman does, all on her lonesome, without any external forces or, you know, semen.
That language of making a “mistake” is part of the culture of shame that surrounds women when they are considering having an abortion. One of the reasons that we rarely have conversations like #ShoutYourAbortion is that most women know the world will react like this. The fact that a woman making a valid medical choice knows that if she is in any way happy or even pleased about her choice, someone will call her a disgusting murderer means that we rarely get to have an open conversation about abortion that actually covers all facets of it. Yes, some women feel guilt or shame after an abortion. But some women don’t. Some women are happy that they didn’t destroy their financial future, or become a parent when they couldn’t handle it, or tie themselves to their abuser, or even have a child that they simply didn’t want.
The women who are posting their stories with #ShoutYourAbortion are taking fire for doing a crucial thing: reducing the stigma against abortion. They are showing other women who do not feel as if they fit in the norm of a “regretful” abortion that there are many women who feel that way. The less we talk about abortions, the more shameful they are going to seem.
An abortion is a medical procedure, but we act as if it is a mystical, demonic ritual that we can only perform if we perform the proper sacrifices of pride and dignity. This isn’t about the “sanctity of life.” If many of the people who oppose abortion actually supported life, they would also support birth control. They would support single mothers, and welfare programs, and family planning programs, and education, and homeless shelters, and food banks. Instead of shaming women for their choices, we should be making the choice a less dire either/or scenario. So if you have Twitter, show some love to the women who are bravely sharing their experiences, and doing their part to make abortion what it should be: a choice that it is acceptable to celebrate as well as mourn.
Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not trying to fight the inequities created by shaming cultures, she studies gender in popular culture.