The Raw Power of Shouting Your Abortion Story

Amelia Bonow of #ShoutYourAbortion wearing a shirt that says \"everybody knows i had an abortion\"

Amelia Bonow, center, with excellently dressed friends. Photo by Kelly O.

Amelia Bonow didn’t mean to become an abortion rights activist.

With friends and family, the 30-year-old Seattle resident has never been quiet about the fact that she got an abortion a year ago. But she didn’t expect her personal story to become international news. That's what happened after she posted about her experience on Facebook last Saturday. “Why shouldn't I be happy that I wasn't forced to become a mother?” she asked, adding the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion. With her permission, the quick status update was reposted on Twitter by her friend Lindy West. The hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion exploded. Over the past week, the hashtag has become a place for thousands of people to share their personal stories of getting abortions.

Amelia's status update

While the popularity of #ShoutYourAbortion came as a surprise, Bonow had been brainstorming with friends for some time about ways to share their personal stories of abortions. They were thinking of putting together a zine about abortion stories or maybe launching a YouTube channel similar to “It Gets Better” where people could tell their stories. The power of sharing abortion stories has been well-documented in recent years—there’s even a whole podcast devoted to abortion stories. As writer Maya Dusenberry eloquently summed up last year in an article about representations of abortion in pop culture:

The idea that telling abortion stories can help combat stigma—and in turn transform cultural attitudes about the issue—is nothing new. A belief in the potential power of “coming out” about our abortion experience dates back at least to the abortion speak-outs of the pre-Roe era and, in the last decade, has been resurrected in “I had an abortion” t-shirts and hashtags, as well as political spaces for people who’ve had abortions to connect.

Bonow hadn’t decided what shape her abortion-stories project would take. But then, last Friday, she read the news that Congress had voted to defund Planned Parenthood. Bonow was supposed to be spending the day writing a paper for grad school. Instead, she spent the day crying. The next afternoon, she decided to share her story on Facebook. The idea of shouting abortion stories clearly resonated—the hashtag quickly took off. Thousands of people have posted their abortion stories on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, putting personal stories behind the statistic that one in three American women will get an abortion during her lifetime.

But amid all the empowering stories have been tweets from anti-choice individuals, activists, and politicians—some of them nasty, violent threats against people who shared their stories—and conservative response pieces. To make matters worse, a story on right-wing site the Daily Caller posted a link to Bonow’s home address. Since then, Bonow has felt unsafe in her own apartment and is worried about extremists showing up on her doorstep. But she’s not going to stop shouting about reproductive rights. “I’m not a public person, or I wasn’t before this,” says Bonow, frankly. “Women around the world have used this hashtag to take back some space in digital culture that should have been ours all along… Women using their voices in this way is fucking terrifying to these people. They’ve relied on our silence to control the narrative.”

So what’s next? Bonow’s not sure, besides snagging the domain name Right now, she, West, and others are getting organized to take the right next steps. “I’m very, very wary of this becoming a ‘white girl feminist’ conversation,” says Bonow. “Obviously, women of color and poor women are the most deeply disenfranchised by anti-reproductive rights legislation. We’re going to make this movement as intersectional as possible.”

In the meantime, reading through the posts on #ShoutYourAbotion shows its real, immediate power. “It’s every woman telling their stories on their own terms,” says Bonow. “It’s not us fighting for some piece of legislation that can then be reversed by some dickheads. They can’t ever take this back from us.” 

by Sarah Mirk
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Sarah Mirk is the former host of Bitch Media’s podcast Popaganda. She’s interested in gender, history, comics, and talking to strangers. You can follow her on Twitter

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