The young woman gazes calmly into the camera, her lips curved in a slight smile. She introduces herself — “I’m Samie Detzer” — and begins to recite a list of things that happened on the day she had her abortion.
“I sat with my best friend in the waiting room while ‘Let It Go’ by Idina Menzel played over the intercom. I took three Vicodin,” she says. “I had a small glass of orange juice in the waiting room afterward, and I hugged the nurse who was there watching to make sure I didn’t get sick.”
Then she lists things that didn’t happen.
“I didn’t feel sad. I didn’t feel angry,” she says. “I didn’t tell the person who got me pregnant. And I didn’t look back.”
Detzer’s composed and unapologetic testimonial — the first of 15 YouTube videos that went live last week as part of the growing #ShoutYourAbortion activism campaign — embodies the tone of a movement that aims to strip any semblance of shame from the act of getting an abortion.
“I think that it’s really powerful to watch a woman sit there and say, ‘I wasn’t ready,’ or ‘I didn’t want to become a mother,’ or ‘I was in school,’ or ‘I knew my relationship was bad,’ ” says Seattle-based #ShoutYourAbortion co-founder Amelia Bonow. “These are all totally valid reasons to choose to terminate a pregnancy, and when you look at a woman’s face and she tells you, ‘I just wasn’t ready’ — that’s enough. And this culture has never made women feel like that’s enough.”
That’s what the women behind #ShoutYourAbortion want to change.
The hashtag took off on Twitter on Sept. 19, the day after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to defund Planned Parenthood. Bonow, #ShoutYourAbortion co-founder and writer Lindy West, and other Seattle-area feminists knew that they wanted to take action in response, and Bonow began writing an off-the-cuff Facebook post about her abortion.
“Plenty of people still believe that on some level — if you are a good woman — abortion is a choice which should be accompanied by some level of sadness, shame or regret,” she wrote. “But you know what? I have a good heart and 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?”
West took a screen shot of Bonow’s post, added the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion, and tweeted it to her more than 61,000 followers. The response was explosive: Within hours, the hashtag had been used tens of thousands of times, primarily by women who leaped at the opportunity to applaud the campaign or share their experiences.
The trending topic soon attracted attention from prominent abortion rights advocates (“Fearless women right here,” Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards tweeted about Bonow and West) and opponents (“#ShoutYourAbortion gives a new meaning to macabre,” tweeted former congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)).
Within days, Bonow started fielding calls from national media outlets. Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America got in touch, offering advice on dealing with the media, maintaining personal safety and harnessing the outpouring of attention to build something bigger and more organized.
But #ShoutYourAbortion also elicited criticism and outrage. People began to circulate the hashtag #ShoutYourAdoption in response. Its users are urging women to consider adoption as an alternative to ending a pregnancy. Some people began using the #ShoutYourAbortion hashtag on Twitter posts of graphic photos of aborted fetuses; others derided the women who shared their personal stories as “murderers,” “degenerate scumbags” and worse.
There were also threats, both blatant and thinly veiled: “You will pay for the murder of babies. You will pay,” one tweet read. After the Daily Caller published the name of Bonow’s apartment building, she temporarily left and stayed with her boyfriend in Portland, Ore.
But she soon returned to Seattle, and last month, she quit her bartending job and took a leave of absence from her graduate studies to focus on #ShoutYourAbortion full time. She launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo with a goal of raising $100,000 to fund a Web site and a YouTube channel, host events, facilitate “salon-style discussions” and establish “a strategic network of voices” across the country, she says. Less than two months after it was created, the #ShoutYourAbortion hashtag has been used more than a quarter of a million times, and the campaign launched its official Web site and YouTube channel on Tuesday.
The stories featured there come from women of various ages, races, ethnicities and personal experiences. Some had their abortions recently, others many years ago. Some didn’t want kids at the time, some didn’t want kids ever, and one woman speaks about very much wanting her baby — but choosing an abortion when she learned that the fetus had an almost certainly fatal abnormality.
In the coming weeks, the channel will add more videos; 35 have been recorded, Bonow says, and more testimonials will be captured at upcoming #ShoutYourAbortion events in Seattle.
By presenting a collection of nuanced narratives, #ShoutYourAbortion aims to advance a message of broader acceptance: If your abortion experience was hard and sad, that’s okay. If your abortion experience wasn’t hard or sad, that’s also okay.
This marks a significant tonal shift in the cultural conversation about abortion. Even abortion rights advocates have often posited abortion as a less-than-desirable outcome, the result of a difficult choice. Take Hillary Rodham Clinton’s oft-quoted 2008 remark that the procedure should be “safe, legal and rare.” The most prominent arguments for keeping abortion legal have usually focused on extreme examples, ones most likely to seem morally palatable — cases involving incest, rape, medical emergencies or catastrophic birth defects.
But those circumstances don’t apply to all women who seek abortions, and not all women feel burdened or distraught by the decision to end a pregnancy, Bonow says.
“Women should be the ones to define the experience of what abortion is, instead of colluding to this idea that it’s bad, and that we’re bad,” she says. “It’s finally feeling like we’re not alone, and we don’t have to be quiet anymore.”
Bonow asks people to submit their stories to #ShoutYourAbortion, although she acknowledges that many who have undergone an abortion aren’t necessarily willing or able to talk about it publicly. She is aware of her privileged position — she had easy access to high-quality health care, the support of her community and the resources to afford the procedure.
“There is so much less on the line for me than there is for other women,” she says.
Which makes her all the more committed to working for others to have the same access to safe and affordable health care, she says.
“By countering stigma with the reality of lived abortion experiences, stigma will dissipate,” she says. “And when that happens, access will naturally increase. And that’s what it’s all about for me.”