The full extent of the damage done by the midterm elections to women’s ability to access abortion and other reproductive health care services may not be known for months or years, but one measure we can count: fifty-three new antichoice Republicans were elected to the House, and five to the Senate. In response to the election results, and in anticipation of the amped-up assault on women’s rights, Steph Herold, a young reproductive justice activist, put a call out to women on her Twitter feed: "Time for us to come out. Who’s had an abortion? Show antis we’re not intimidated by scare tactics. Use: #ihadanabortion." The #ihadanabortion hashtag soon swarmed with the first-person accounts of women’s abortion experiences, with thoughtful responses, and with support. But after mainstream media attention, antichoicers joined the fray, with cynicism, suspicion and no small amount of cruelty for women who have had abortions. Aspen Baker, founder of Exhale, representing the "pro-voice" movement, is using a different model of online story-telling: Exhale offers women who’ve had abortions a private online community in which to share their experiences with abortion and support each other. "Through listening and storytelling, in private and in public, online and in-person, the pro-voice movement is building new public discussions that are grounded in the real, lived experiences of women and men with abortion," Aspen writes. The Nation invited the two women to engage in a dialogue about #ihadanabortion, the value of telling abortion stories publicly, and the risks and rewards of online consciousness-raising. —Emily Douglas
Steph Herold: Thanks for getting this started, Emily. I could have started the hashtag this week or last year with the same motivations. Unfortunately, abortion carries a stigma no matter which party is in power. My immediate motivation for this project was a blog post that compared the modern prochoice movement to the gay rights movement in the 1970s. What strengthened the gay rights movement then, according to the author, was individual people coming out, and the general public realizing that homosexuality is more common (and normal!) than they ever imagined. The author of the post posed an interesting question: why don’t we do that for abortion rights? In reality, abortion is a regular part of women’s lives. Why not use Twitter to demonstrate that? I talked to Anna Holmes, founder of and former editor at Jezebel.com, about the idea and she helped me brainstorm exactly what hashtag to use and how to encourage people to share their experiences.
There are many websites that allow women to tell their stories in longer form (such as ImNotSorry.net and 45 Million Voices), but I’ve never seen this kind of campaign on Twitter. It’s easier to write a sentence or two about your abortion than it is to write a blog post. Twitter opens up this conversation to a broader audience—it’s not just for the prochoice community. This hashtag has the potential to reach a new audience, to reach women who haven’t yet found a venue to share their stories.
There have been all kinds of abortion stories on the hashtag, ranging from women who had abortions before they were legal in the US to women who had an abortion last month. There is such a diversity of abortion experiences on the hashtag, which I love because it mimics reality: there is no "average" abortion story.
Before mainstream media covered the hashtag, it was mostly women showing their support for each other’s reproductive choices. Now that it’s all over the media, the hashtag has unfortunately become another Internet abortion flame war zone. While perhaps I could’ve predicted that, it is disappointing. I don’t think reading some of the cruel antichoice comments will shock women new to sharing their abortion experiences, though perhaps the audacity and persistence of antichoice hatred will. Part of the risk of coming out is exposing yourself to the antichoice hatred that is on Twitter. From what I’ve seen on the hashtag, antis seem less concerned with targeting specific women than spamming the hashtag with misinformation and cruel comments.