On September 19, in reaction to Congress’ vote to defund Planned Parenthood, Seattle-based activist Amelia Bonow decided to start publicly talking about her recent abortion. “Like a year ago I had an abortion at the Planned Parenthood on Madison Ave, and I remember this experience with a nearly inexpressible level of gratitude,” she wrote on Facebook. “...having an abortion made me happy in a totally unqualified way. Why wouldn’t I be happy that I was not forced to become a mother?”
She finished her post with the hashtag “#ShoutYourAbortion,” a reference to an abortion-themed zine that she had been working on with fellow activist Kimberly Morrison, and encouraged other women to do the same. Shortly thereafter, her friend Lindy West—writer, activist, and former Jezebel staffer—took the hashtag to Twitter, sending it out to her 60,000+ followers.
In the week that’s followed, women have been flooding #ShoutYourAbortion with their own abortion stories and the breadth of experiences is profound. There are women who ended pregnancies after finding out that their fetuses had life-ruining physical defects, women who had abortions because they were with abusive partners or because their birth control failed, and women who had abortions simply because they didn’t want kids. None of these women are ashamed and none of them should be. Abortion is the right choice, so long as it’s your choice.
We talked to Bonow over email about abortion, speaking out, internet trolls (she’s seen a lot of them in the past few days), getting doxed and how to support women who are forced to stay quiet.
Jezebel: How do we help women, particularly women who don’t have the luxury of speaking publicly about their abortions (because they don’t have the support of their communities or any number of other reasons), realize that their abortions are nothing to be ashamed of and that we’re there for them?
Amelia Bonow: Every woman has a right to her own unique psychological, emotional, physical or spiritual reaction to having an abortion. I would never dream of telling another women how she should feel about that experience. While other women feeling ashamed of their abortions makes me incredibly sad, I’m not trying to talk other people out of their reactions. Shame is not my thing and it’s certainly a cultural expectation that #ShoutYourAbortion (SYA) wants to counter with our own perspective. But no part of SYA is directive. It’s not #ShoutYourAbortionRightNowOrYouAreABadFeminist!
However, for me, having an abortion simply wasn’t some major, heavy experience. The heaviest part was feeling overwhelmed by gratitude because the Planned Parenthood in my neighborhood took such incredible care of me. I felt relief. I felt aware that I am one of the luckiest women in the world. I felt deeply sad that so many women in the states lack access to safe and affordable reproductive healthcare. For these women, motherhood is compulsory, while I had the opportunity to opt out. I also felt a huge wash of love for my friends, many of whom are the people who have helped push SYA into the world.
Ending my own social media silence about my abortion happened on a whim. I just realized that my own silence was totally incongruous with my personality and values. Don’t get me wrong—I sent an email to like 20 friends and family members after I got knocked up just letting them know the score and telling them I was fine, so that I didn’t have to talk about it 20 different times and absorb 20 different peoples’ emotional reactions. But I had never just gone off about my abortion via social media the way I regularly go off about white supremacy, casual drug use, being terrified that the world is ending, period stains—you know, things that most people are afraid to talk about. Why was I afraid of talking about abortion this way? I guess I realized that I was NOT afraid to talk about it publicly; I just hadn’t done it yet. The stigma surrounding abortion is based in misogynistic garbage thinking and hillbilly science and someone else’s version of morality, so why should someone who knows so much better and has certain levels of privilege—my whiteness, my community, and my pregnancy being the product of consensual sex, to name a few—collude with my own silence?
It is not breaking news that the anti-choice movement and conservatives in general rely on silence and shame to control and disempower women. SYA has just kicked the patriarchy in the dick. They are so angry with us and they can’t figure out how to shut us up. There are too goddamned many of us and you cannot reverse a viral shift in cultural consciousness. SYA is in no way a completely unique tactical movement, but the way it has gotten off the ground has electrified women around the world. I know it has electrified me, and I am a jaded, caustic millennial; I haven’t felt a change like this in a long time. The Kim Davises of the world can’t quash this kind of movement.
It’s been pretty interesting (and infuriating) to watch engagement between the pro-choice and anti-abortion crowds happen on Twitter and on the #ShoutYourAbortion Facebook wall, especially when you see how much misinformation gets tossed around. The number of people claiming that our tax dollars fund Planned Parenthood’s abortion procedures (they don’t) is maddening.
Yeah, this is something I’ve struggled with in interviews. Some news head is like “What do you say to those who say SYA is an anti-baby terrorist cell who is working to help known slutcoven and baby chop shop Planned Parenthood buy more effective killing machines?” And I’m like “Derp. I would say….maybe your hands are actually shoes!”
Can you tell us more about the rad “Fuck the patriarchy” tattoo that #shoutyourabortion is using as a logo?
The tat is the work of beloved Seattle tattoo artist and anti-patriarchy enthusiast Shannon Perry (@shannoneperry on Instagram) and the armpit is that of Kimberly Morrison, who is a co-founder of SYA and has been holding it down by doing rad shit on the home front like helping organize button making parties while Lindy does the Lord’s work fighting ghouls on Twitter and I do press stuff.
You’ve been receiving threats from anti-abortion activists. How are you holding up?
I’m not at home right now because I was doxxed a few days ago—BY A WOMAN—in Tucker Carlson’s garbage rag “The Daily Caller” and Lindy and I have been inundated with threats and emotional terrorism. I’m scared. I mean, I do not actually think that an anti-life militia person is going to murder me—knock on wood!—but I’m not exactly overreacting. Maybe I’m being sort of a baby compared to Lindy, but the kind of shit that happens to her regularly—threats, doxxing, abuse— are the kinds of things that no human being should ever have to accept as collateral damage for being a woman who speaks publicly in a way that challenges male power. And Lindy does not accept the way people treat her—instead she leans into a barrage of terrifying and dehumanizing vitriol on twitter and on other platforms and in person every single day, and is then forced to diligently monitor peoples’ reactions so that she can go file an FBI report and manage the security of her online and IRL presence accordingly. Lindy deals with things that nobody should ever have to deal with and she does this publicly in order to expose how gruesome it is and where it is really coming from. She sacrifices her own sanity in order to expose these people.
A word on my own emotional experience thus far with backlash: Unlike Lindy, I haven’t been thoroughly desensitized to the abuse that accompanies being a woman and publicly using the internet, so being doxxed and subsequently harassed has chilled me to the bone. I do not know if I will ever feel totally safe again, and this is a harsh toke for a woman living in a world that has never been a safe place for women, not even close. It was unsafe for me even before I tripped into this wacky new life where my face is on TV with a caption underneath that says “pro choice activist says abortion makes her happy”. All that said, we won’t stop. We can’t! It is way out of our hands in the best possible way, and nothing will ever be the same. I feel a blistering level of resolve.
You say you’re working on a larger #ShoutYourAbortion project with Kimberly Morrison and another video project with Seattle writer Lesley Hazleton. Any hints on what that will be?
The project with Kimberly is a zine which will be a place for women to share their abortion stories, and is something we’ve been working on for a while. The video project was the brainchild of #ShoutYourAbortion co-conspirator and writer Lesley Hazleton. Shoutyourabortion.com will ultimately become a video sharing site a la the It Get’s Better campaign (another great Seattle project!). We are going to begin filming women speaking openly about their abortions at an event in October and will be uploading them to the site as soon as we can get it up and running. Hopefully we can make the site a place where women can share their stories publically in video or text, and continue to open up the space for women to speak about their abortions on their own terms.
Thank you, Amelia!
[Correction: This post originally claimed that Amelia Bonow and Kimberly Morrison co-founded the Shout Your Abortion hashtag when it was actually co-created by Bonow and Lindy West. Bonow and Morrison were previously working on a #ShoutYourAbortion themed zine. The article has been updated to correct my error.]
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Image via Amelia Bonow.