I’ve never been one to live quietly. When I had an abortion six years ago, I started talking about it pretty soon afterward. I don’t generally shy away from taboo topics, and as a longtime activist and clinic escort, I knew there was nothing to be ashamed of – abortion is simply part of women’s reproductive lives. It always has been.
One afternoon last week, I started seeing tweets tagged #ShoutYourAbortion come through my timeline. The hashtag was started by writer Lindy West and activist Amelia Bonow in response to Congress’ attacks on and vote to defund Planned Parenthood. The idea was to say that abortions shouldn’t be discussed in hushed tones. They’re nothing to whisper about. We should shout our stories. So I shouted mine. I didn’t actually include any details about why I’d had an abortion, as others did. I’ve long since stopped trying to make my reasons palatable enough to those who think some reasons are better than others. Rather, I wrote this:
“I’m proud to have had an abortion. Was a time I respected my life, relationship & body enough to do what was right for me #shoutyourabortion”
Then the trolls found it.
“My trusty Skankatron 5000 tramp-detector just blew up.”
“You killed your helpless child.”
“I’m sitting here running my fingers through my toddler’s hair, and I’m shaking in anger at these whores.”
“You’re a disgusting, degenerate baby-murdering whore. You are everything that is wrong with the world. You are sick.”
The harassment started rolling in around 8 p.m. Over the next 12 hours, I was @-mentioned in more than one hundred gendered insult-laden tweets. Over and over again, these harassers called me a whore. Overall, I received one tweet from a woman who begged me to repent and said she’d pray for me, and the rest were filled with profanity and misogyny.
And that’s how it works, isn’t it? When push comes to shove, there’s no real concern for children’s lives, or for women’s safety. Just plain misogyny and violence, laid bare for all to see.
And we do all see it. The people who write these vicious comments have family members, friends, co-workers, congregants, and neighbors. The people who see these insults have kids that play with the commenters’ kids, or stand next to the commenters at choir rehearsal. One in three women in the US will have an abortion by age 45. That’s one in three daughters, sisters, girlfriends, mothers, cousins, wives, friends, colleagues, women next to you in the pew, teachers at your kids’ school, friendly cashiers at the supermarket, nurses at your parent’s retirement home, celebrities you read about in magazines.
That’s one-third of all women hearing themselves called irresponsible, selfish whores who are unfit to be mothers at all, even though sixty percent of women who access abortion care are already mothers.
And every one of those one in three women responds differently. Some of us get mad and resolve to speak out louder. Some of us retreat into ourselves, vowing never to tell anyone because that one time we did tell someone we were attacked.
Personally, I’ve just gotten numb. It’s hard to feel much of anything after one of those trolls takes it upon himself to find your home address, and threaten to give you a hysterectomy with a rusty knife (yes, I called the police. No, they didn’t do anything). A barrage of trolls calling me a “selfish whore” and “murdering cunt” makes me roll my eyes, proclaim that they’re pathetic, and hit the block button. I know not everyone can shrug them off. But to me, those insults get old – it’s the same story over and over and over again.
Because they’re the same go-to violent misogynistic insults each and every time, after watching these tweets roll in all night, I decided to make a word cloud, to represent the frequency with which certain words were hurled at me. The cloud includes all the harassing tweets I received from 8 p.m. on Sept. 22 to 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 23 (except “murdering cunt” – I missed that one, since the account was suspended before I made the cloud. Darn).
That’s what it looks like to share my truth – that I had an abortion, and I’m not sorry about it.
I’ve been trying to come up with ways to turn this hatred into something productive, so I have one simple request for you: help other people get abortions when they need them. There are clearly enough societal barriers to accessing abortion care, but we can stand up to the trolls and knock down the economic ones. The DC Abortion Fund is on the front lines of eliminating stigma and supporting folks that need help accessing abortion care.
So don’t feed the trolls. Instead, feed DCAF.
By volunteer Robyn S.