• Arlinda Fasliu

#ShoutYourAbortion: Who's Listening?

#ShoutYourAbortion taggers are being hailed for their courage and threatened for their cheer.

Eight heavily edited videos had surfaced on the internet of Planned Parenthood talking about harvesting tissue from a fetus for research. Following the videos, most recently there was a bill that passed in the House to stop funding for Planned Parenthood. The day after, Amelia Bonow and Lindy West started the campaign and hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion.

Ms. Bonow says that this hashtag is meant to emphasize that 1 in 3 women will have an abortion in their lifetime (Lewin, "#ShoutYourAbortion Gets Angry Shouts Back).

Trying to de-stigmatize abortion through a hashtag is a difficult feat. But many say it’s the most critical step to making a difference.

University of Iowa WRAC director Linda Stewart Kroon says that “The power of people telling their own stories is huge.” When it comes to breaking a stigma you have to persistently talk about it in factual terms “not defensively, but matter-a-factly.” The importance of vocabulary is huge in arguments like this. When it comes to hashtag campaigns, it is so easy to take something and twist it around. Especially in this digital age, the language that we use in this debate is very charged on both sides “you have one side talking about murdering babies and you have another side talking about the government being in their uterus.”

Although both sides have very passionate opinions, the stark language often demonizes parties involved.  Kroon states that the issue itself will not be resolved until we learn to use a better vocabulary when we sit down to make these lawful decision.

Many people have taken to twitter and other social media sites to reply to the #ShoutYourAbortion hashtag condemning people for celebrating a “murder.” President of the Students for life at the University of Iowa, Sarah Mecreary said that her opinion is that although she would like it if every life was given a chance, she doesn’t think women who have abortions should be shamed; she hopes they can get the care and healing that they need after having gone through the traumatic procedure. Many people against the hashtag are appalled at the “celebration” and happiness surrounding the hashtag. Bonow says “A shout is not a celebration or a valued judgment, it is the opposite of a whisper of silence (Lewin, "#ShoutYourAbortion Gets Angry Shouts Back).”

Veronica, a University of Iowa Student who has had an abortion says she’s been one of those whispers for far too long. She stated that the pro-life extremists use hurtful words that hold those trying to speak out back. No one wants to be called a murder. Although she wanted to spare herself the possibility and quite probably, the reality of harassment after coming out with her abortion story, she confided in me. As tears ran down her face she said “I don’t understand the logic behind it – you don’t want people to have an abortion but you don’t want them to have access to contraceptives; it makes no sense.” Like Veronica, the frustration with this long standing debate for access to health care has reached a boiling point.

Women who have gone through this procedure are speaking out, but at a costly price to their mental health and sometimes physical wellbeing. Ms. Bownow had to leave her apartment after the 2ndweek of the #ShoutYourAbortion Campaign because her address was posted online and she was getting death threats (Lewin, "#ShoutYourAbortion Gets Angry Shouts Back). The strong opinions of online extremist who believe in life have come full circle. This issue has always been a debate of what comes first but the reality of the matter has been often brushed aside by extremists. Abortions will not stop happening. So for those that are going to have them, where is the line we draw between free speech and harassment?

Although Roe vs. Wade was passed in 1973, the debate is still as heated as ever and the stigma around abortion has not changed. The internet has given people access to an incredible amount of information, and yet the ignorance has remained stagnant in terms of facts. PHD Student Kelly Bailey says this isn’t surprising since people gravitate towards things that feed their bias. When asked about why this is getting so much media coverage, Marina Bekovic, said “it’s because we’re going backwards.” She states that people are used to having access to this kind of procedure and when it’s taken away like in New Jersey when Chris Christie shut down abortion clinics, the effects are always negative. With a laugh, she points out that one of the first things the USSR did back in her native country, was allow people access to safe abortions, and “if Russia can do it, the United States shouldn’t be going backwards.”

Sarah Mecreary, President at University of Iowa’s Students for Life said her take on the hashtag was that the women posting wanted to feel like the decision they made was ok and respected, but that she didn’t agree with it. She explained that she didn’t think that abortion was a decision that anyone should make but that “everyone makes mistakes.” In those instances her organization also aims to help women who have been through the procedure to seek healing. Sarah stated that she didn’t support Planned Parenthood because they profited off of abortions and had a quota for abortions. She felt that when a women is making the decision to have an abortion or not she should not be coerced by others that want to profit off of her. In fact mpr reported that “Planned Parenthood gets around $450 million yearly in federal payments, mostly Medicaid reimbursements for handling low-income patients. That's around one-third of the organization's $1.3 billion annual budget. Practically none of the federal money can be used for abortions (mpr.org).

The reality of the #ShoutYourAbortion campaign is that the first step in speaking out will always feel like one half step back. People will come out and try to stifle your voice. The harassment is real and so are the lives involved.  These people involved are in fact the pioneers of a new era of reality. Without the tough people that continue to speak out about the importance of having access to these resources and the reality of the need for abortions and clinics like Planned Parenthood, we will only continue to belittle those who are most in need of our support financially and emotionally.

Veronica is a name given to the confidential source who wants to remain anonymous.

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