A few days ago #ihadanabortion was trending. In other words, the hashmarked phrase broke into the top ten topics being posted about on the addictive social media and web based bulletin board Twitter.
To explain this rather unusual public declaration, Tracy Clark-Flory of Salon writes that tweeting "#ihadanabortion" is a "provocative act," but the purpose of such an exercise is to make it less so. Acknowledging that, the "complexity of women's varying experiences is lost" when reduced to 140 characters, she notes the digitally delivered statement is nevertheless powerful. "Political slogans are not about nuance, and after Tuesday's election we're especially in need of some bold rhetoric."
Some Salon commenters spoke of their own illegal abortions, and expressed gratitude for choice. A back-room abortion in the 1950s led to septicemia that almost killed one woman. One commenter hoped that the tweeters don't get targeted for their candor. "But then that's why it has to be done. Because there are nuts out there with guns and they need to know that they can't shoot everyone."
In point of fact, this twitter meme was begun by an avatar called @IAmDrTiller named for Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider, who was murdered in 2009 by an anti-abortion activist. Despite pro-life efforts to depict Dr. Tiller as a sociopath motivated by greed, his stated preference was dermatology, but he changed his specialty after hearing about a patient who died from an illegal abortion.
Wrote one commenter: "It just seems like bad manners to tweet your abortion. So you decided to kill your child. That's your right. But don't assume everyone else wants to hear about it. I don't want to hear about your rape, your cheating on your spouse, your diarrhea. I don't even want to see the baby pictures of children you didn't kill."
Key phrase: "That's your right." Left unspoken: For now. Until the pro-life movement can get Roe v. Wade overturned.
The struggle for human rights is not about manners or what people want to hear, is it? I'm sure segregationists in the Old South didn't want to hear about civil rights. Suffragists had to be plenty obnoxious to secure women's right to vote. Sex education pioneer Margaret Sanger risked jail time to get her word out.
One commenter defended the abortion message with: "These women are increasing the number of pro-choice voices and making it clear to anti-choice people that women who have had abortions are not a few isolated individuals who are ripe to be bullied."
Some observers saw the tweets as an opportunity to demystify abortions. One woman wrote that at her clinic she saw "all ages and races and religious backgrounds at the clinics...a woman in hijab, a 15-year-old in her PJs, a mom with 2 kids."
Another commenter objected to the abortion meme's seeming exhibitionism based on the fact that Roe v. Wade was decided on the constitutional basis of right to privacy (between patient and doctor).
On the somewhat similar topic of the "I was raped" t-shirt a few years ago, a commenter wrote, "My European friends are right: Americans have a weird habit of 'oversharing,' handing out intimate details of their lives to casual acquaintances and complete strangers. It's . . . undignified. And dignity is the very first thing a rapist strips you of."
But one woman's oversharing is another woman's liberation. Last In February my Woman Up colleague Helena Andrews disclosed her own experience with abortion in a post headlined 'Abortion by Pill in Real Time, Chronicled on Twitter' about a Twitter user who tweeted her bout with RU-486 (aka "morning after" pill) as it was unfolding.
We live in an age of disclosure, when, as another commenter put it, "a lot of people, especially a lot of young people, have no qualms about putting every iota of their personal information, including their nude bodies, on the Web for the entire world to see."
Another observer added that "it's harder to say that only bad girls need abortions when you know your daughter had one. Only when these things aren't secret do people really start to get that these aren't [just] other people's problems. These are problems that impact all of us."
We'd all like to see the Hollywood ending to every unwanted pregnancy. In the 1963 film "Love With the Proper Stranger," starring Steve McQueen and Natalie Wood, a one-night stand lead not to the back-alley abortion, as planned, but rather to a marriage proposal. Click play below to watch video:
But even if McQueen's character had not come through, Wood's mom-to-be was healthy, employed and competent. Plus, she hailed from a large, protective family. That's a far cry from the reality for many pregnant women today, as searingly depicted in the documentary "12th and Delaware" on HBO a few months ago. A lot of privacy walls fell in the making of that film, and viewers are richer for it.
As a cancer survivor, I'm quite familiar with the "c-word." Every journalist knows to avoid the "f-word" and the "n-word." Then there's the "l-word," which has had several meanings over the years. And now we have the "a-word."
Can we just grow up already? If, like children, we can't stand to say or hear words, how will we ever face the problems the words suggest? Pregnancies get terminated. It happens, and it's been happening at least since 1550 BC.
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