Seattle writer Amelia Bonow says she cried all day when she heard Republicans in Congress were attempting to defund Planned Parenthood. Years before, she'd had an abortion at one of their clinics and described it as a wonderful experience. She never regretted her choice, and spoke about it among her community that she describes as "feminist liberal, punk rock, queer, women, and people who talk about everything that mainstream culture isn't supposed to talk about." But seeing the mounting propaganda being leveled at the organization, she realized she never really spoke publicly about her terminations. And never widely expressed how lucky she felt to have access to that choice and "not be forced to become a mother when I didn't want to be one."
The next day she shared her abortion story on her Facebook page, viewing her previous hesitation to speak widely about it as proof that she's internalized a level of shame around her choice. She texted her friend, the writer Lindy West, about it, and West had soon screen-shotted her post and tweeted it to her more than 60,0000 followers with their agreed hashtag #shoutyourabortion. Within hours it had blown up and women were sharing their own experiences, told without the usual frame of guilt, shame, regret, and terror.
Four days later the hashtag is continuing to grow, and Bonow is dealing with online abuse along with waves of support. VICE spoke to her about her choice to not be silent, the consequences of that, and why it's time to reclaim the abortion conversation.
VICE: How are you feeling?
Amelia Bonow: I'm good, you know it's just one of those things, one of the weirdest days of my life. It was all feeling very positive, and it absolutely still is. I'm not very Twitter savvy, my best friend and co-founder of #ShoutYourAbortion, Lindy, is. She's a total Twitter warrior and is used to all the abuse.
The abuse has really become visible in the past 24 hours, can you tell me a bit about that?
I knew people were talking mad shit, but then someone got access to an old Facebook post I'd made, took it out of context, and wrote this super gnarly article that was so fucked up and scary and mentioned where I Iive. At that point it just became sort of chilling.
Lindy is my best friend, and there are entire websites dedicated to all different forms of threats to her. But it was a surprise because I'm not a public figure. By the time it was getting going I knew we were doing something really cool and women were going to take this over. It didn't cross my mind that someone would dig through all the shit there was about me and make something so legitimately terrifying.
Does that strengthen your resolve?
I've never felt more resolved about something in my whole life. People like that are the reason this is so important. They are on the extreme end of a group of people who will do anything to keep women silent. The conversation around abortion has been completely hijacked by men and anti-choice activists who have made this not about women. Women reclaiming this digital space and erasing stigma is the biggest challenge those kinds of people face. They're scared, and they should be.
Obviously Planned Parenthood has always been a focus for anti-abortion campaigners, but it feels like this year there has been a regression in the United States over women's body rights. You're at the point where every Republican presidential candidate supports defunding them. What do you feel has allowed the debate to reach this level?
The anti-choice movement has been incredibly successful at pushing through small pieces of legislation. For example, the legislation in Mississippi that has prevented every abortion doctor in the state from practicing because they now have a laundry list of ridiculous and expensive qualifications that they need to practice legally. Effectively there is no abortion clinic in Mississippi, so it may as well already be illegal there.
Legislation has been successful in limiting access and leveraging stigma and shame to the point women don't even have access to preventative healthcare that can save their lives and make sure they don't get pregnant.
Related: Watch Broadly's documentary on the abortion pill
You've had a positive experience with Planned Parenthood that you understandably want to share, but what about women who aren't in the position to speak out in that way?
Yeah and I'm very aware that my freedom to speak about this is a product of my privilege. Many women can't speak out because their abortions were a product of rape, incest, abuse, or they just had a bad experience and are not willing to bring something that personal out and invite more judgement into their lives. It's hard enough to be alive in this world as a female without inviting people to attack you.
I don't want this hashtag to be interpreted as a directive. I would never implore any women to speak in the way that I am—I know I'm lucky to do so. I think the hashtag also works for women who are not shouting their abortions, but are standing behind our right to do so. It's all about reducing stigma and starting the conversation.
*An earlier version of this article implied Planned Parenthood had been defunded. That is not the case. Republicans in Congress are attempting to defund Planned Parenthood. The article has been updated and we regret the error.
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