When Emily Letts learned that she was pregnant, she made the same decision that 1 in 3 women will make in their lifetime: she chose to get an abortion. Her next decision, however, was far more uncommon: she elected to film the surgical procedure as a means of showing other women that, as she puts it, "there is such thing as a positive abortion story."
In an essay published on Cosmopolitan.com, Letts — who is an abortion counselor at a clinic in New Jersey — explains her reasons for doing so. She says she originally wanted to write a blog post, but then she came across a video of a woman taking the abortion pill "to show everyone that she was fine, that it's not scary, it doesn't hurt, and she was confident in her decision to do it." Letts scoured the Internet for a similar video about a surgical abortion, and nothing came up. This inspired her to film her own experience:
We talk about abortion so much and yet no one really knows what it actually looks like. A first trimester abortion takes three to five minutes. It is safer than giving birth. There is no cutting, and risk of infertility is less than 1 percent. Yet women come into the clinic all the time terrified that they are going to be cut open, convinced that they won't be able to have kids after the abortion. The misinformation is amazing, but think about it: They are still willing to sacrifice all these things because they can't carry the child at this moment.
Her video is non-graphic and non-violent; it focuses on the top half of her body as she breathes and hums while the abortion doctor performs the procedure off-screen. The abortion takes less than two minutes (according to her essay, she was only 1 to 2 weeks pregnant at the time). "I feel good," she says afterwards.
Very unsurprisingly, conservative bloggers are completely up in arms over the video, claiming that Letts is a godless baby-slaughterer and a "WITCH FROM HELL" (to which I say: someone needs to update their knowledge of witch origin-places). Obviously, all this hyperbolic right-wing barking is nonsense — however, it does reveal just how strong the stigma around publicly and unashamedly discussing abortion is. Abortion is a very personal decision, which is something Letts emphasizes. "This is ONLY my story," she writes on the video's YouTube description. "I do not pretend that it is anything more or anything less. I do not speak for everyone on this sensitive subject." If Emily feels entirely good about her personal decision to terminate a unwanted and unplanned pregnancy, that's her prerogative — just like choosing to get an abortion is her right.
Millions of women undergo abortion procedures annually. Some feel guilty about it; some don't. But mass media and public perception don't reflect this at all — although 90 percent of women report feeling "relief" after obtaining an abortion, and though it's safer to have a legal abortion than it is to give birth, media representations of abortion disproportionately show women meeting dire fates after choosing to terminate their pregnancies. As a culture, we internalize this stigma. We learn to think that abortion is always and necessarily traumatizing for every woman. It's not, and that's what Letts was attempting to show in her video: in her Cosmo piece, she says, "I know there are women who feel great remorse. I have seen the tears." She just happens not to be one of them. That's an important — and too-often untold — narrative.
Reflecting on her decision a month and a half after-the-fact, Letts says, "I know what I was gonna do was right, because it was right for me and no one else." Exactly. If she feels absolutely no regret about her abortion, it's because she made a choice that was good for her, a choice that allowed her to exercise reproductive autonomy, a choice it entirely within her rights to make.