Until last week, if you asked me where to find photos of what an abortion looked like, I would have been at a loss. But then the site www.thisismyabortion.com/ was launched by an anonymous woman who had secretly taken photos of her abortion while it was happening with her cell phone. Almost as soon as it went up, it shot around the internet, appearing all over Reddit, Twitter and everywhere else links are shared. The woman, who goes by “Jane Doe” has become a sudden celebrity and a driver of the eternal debate on abortion. She wrote an op-ed for the Guardian and has been fielding interview requests for basically every media outlet on Earth, even Business Insider’s Finance section. I had some questions of my own, so I reached out to her via email (she’s not doing any phone interviews because she’s concerned about her safety). Even though she said she was cross-eyed after sitting at the computer for days, she answered me right away.
VICE: On your site, you make it sound like the decision to photograph your abortion was a spur-of-the-moment response to the protestors outside waving those horrible dead fetus signs. Was that the case, or were you thinking about doing this beforehand?
Jane Doe: My decision was absolutely a response to the anti-choice protestors and their dead fetus banners outside the clinic. The images were so extreme, so graphic, so gruesome. It felt like such a gross violation of my right to be at peace with my personal choice and for the doctors that were trying to do their jobs. It was much later that I decided to share my photos publicly.
Was it difficult to photograph the abortion as it was happening?
The process of taking the photographs and hiding the act was indeed difficult. I asked for a very low dose of painkillers for personal choices and that made the process as a whole difficult. I actually took pictures of the procedure room beforehand, a few very straight shots of the actual procedure while it was happening from the angle of my chest looking down to the stirrups, and then the after shots of the procedure, which you see on thisismyabortion.com.
I was extra careful to make sure that none of the abortion caregivers were in any of the shots out of respect for their privacy and security. I did keep the camera hidden from the doctors themselves. I wasn’t sure if they would have taken my camera away.
Do you think the pro-choice movement should discuss the specifics of abortion procedures more than it does? I don’t think I know how abortions actually work – I think there’s a sort of vacuum involved, but that’s about it.
Absolutely. I think that both pro-choice and anti-abortion movements have a responsibility to present the facts of abortion to the public in a fair and balanced way. People need access to as much factual information as they can get to make educated choices for their body and feel OK about it. No one wants to have to decide whether or not to have an abortion. But if you do, it is imperative that the option is available and that sound information is provided to these men and women on the pros and cons of the procedure from a medical standpoint.
How does it feel to “go viral” for something like this?
Going “viral” has been exhausting! I haven’t worked at my day job in nearly a week. I’ve barely slept and have been staring at my computer for a total of what feels like the equivalent of 10 million hours. I’ve developed a serious eye twitch and I’ve broken into my Y2K stash of food in my cupboards. Exhaustion aside, it has felt humbling and empowering.
What kind of responses have you received?
In terms of the emails and comments, it’s been a mixed bag, as you can imagine. Overall, the letters of thanks and support have drastically outweighed the negative response. Throughout the life of the project I’ve received beautiful candid emails from men and women alike from all over the world sharing with me their very personal stories of pregnancy, abortion, rape, molestation, parenting and so on. It’s as though the public has been starving for a place to share and connect. Abortion is so taboo that many people haven’t even been able to relate or connect to a community. It’s quite sad to witness the isolation.
Has the attention been mostly positive?
Over the weekend a piece was featured on the front page of catholic.org and on some apparently frequented pro-life blogs. At that point the very staunch Christian emails surfaced and the hate mail began popping up. I received a comment on the site that referred to a new site called thisismyabortion.org. I felt moved to share this in the comments section at that point:
“Hello all, I’ve been getting many comments over the last 24 hours such as this, which comes as no surprise: ‘YOUR PATHETIC, TOO BAD YOUR MUM DIDN’T ABORT YOU SO THAT YOU COULD NOT INFLUENCE THESE YOUNG GIRLS TO CONSIDER ABORTION…’ And this one: ‘You’re a sick, sick, bitch.’
And many with language such as this: ‘Maybe you do not know God or that abortion is a sin? Praying for you!’
While I believe everyone has a right to their opinion and belief, this is not a public forum set up for hate, instilling fear or expressing fanaticism. It is my intention for the space that has been created on this site to be a safe one. Comments such as the ones above will not be included in the conversation. Thisismyabortion.com was created to contribute another educational perspective on what an abortion can look like to counter the images of the commonly known dead fetus abortion photograph.
General hate mail or any variation of the ones illustrated above can be directed to websites such as thisismyabortion.org which offer other perspectives on the abortion matter and could be a better fit for such opinions. It appears the site is taking emails, but not public comment.”
I cannot express how important it is to me that this site remain a safe space for women and men to share their stories without feeling judged or condemned. Even hearing that someone is “praying for me,” in this context, feels demeaning and threatening. There’s already plenty of hatred and fear-mongering out there for people to encounter.
Do you think there’s a way to convince those people protesting outside abortion clinics that what they’re doing is wrong? Or is this an issue that’s going to be a permanent divide in America?
I think that for human rights to be acknowledged and respected, they must be institutionalised. Lawmakers must get involved to pass legislation to protect a woman’s right to choose and to make clinics safe spaces. There must be laws that regulate protesting within a certain radius of the clinics. There is a time and place for everything.
I received one email from a Catholic woman who told me that while she is personally pro-life, she is pro-choice for everyone else. She does not judge nor feel it is her business to dictate the choice of others and expressed being ashamed by her religious community and their treatment of others. She feels at peace with her union with her god and doesn’t feel any need to push her values or beliefs on anyone. She was inspirational because she showed me how one can be at peace with their choices and the choices of others.
Our country is one that is rich in religious diversity. There are many examples of how one can be connected to their faith. I think that if people from all faiths can come together to support women’s rights as human rights, real change can take place. After all, the choice to choose your faith is the same as a person's right to choose what is done to their body.