She wasn’t trying to start a revolution. But it was September 2015, the House had just voted to defund Planned Parenthood — and Amelia Bonow found the one-sided conversation exhausting.
“Women like myself were feeling so incredibly angry and disillusioned and helpless about the way that our rights were being taken away from us,” says Bonow, a Seattle bartender and grad student at the time. “It was clear to me I was not using the full range of my voice as a feminist and a woman who’d had an abortion.”
On a whim, she made a Facebook post stating that she’d had an abortion and was not only grateful for it but happy about it. “The narrative of those working to defund Planned Parenthood,” she wrote, “relies on the assumption that abortion is still something to be whispered about.”
Her friend, popular Jezebel writer Lindy West, tweeted a screenshot of the post to her 60,000 followers with the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion — and a movement was born. Within a few days, the hashtag was used 250,000 times as women all over the world tweeted about their own abortion experiences: the good, the bad, and the unapologetic.
There’s the mother of five who didn’t want more kids. The women whose contraceptives failed or for whom Plan B failed. Those who were raped or in abusive relationships. Women with cancer or whose fetuses had fatal abnormalities. Or who simply didn’t want to have a baby.
“It was an organic explosion of ‘We’re not going to be quiet about this anymore,’” says Bonow, 32, pointing out that most Americans identify as pro-choice. “The anti-choice movement has really capitalized on our silence. And I don’t think they can get away with legislating this issue in a way that is so profoundly out of touch with the lives, values, and experiences of mainstream Americans if we’re actually talking about our abortions.”
Of course, the brazenness of the movement enraged opponents. “There were a lot of people saying, ‘How dare you? You should be ashamed of yourselves,’” says Bonow, who moved out of her apartment for a while after receiving personal threats.
But she makes no effort to soft-pedal her stance — and doesn’t much care how others may judge her. In a piece she wrote for Salon.com, she talks about stealing a pregnancy test from Walgreen’s and getting high on pills before her abortion (“because I like getting high, not because I was scared”).
Does she worry that her brash tone might play right into her opponents’ narrative that abortion is a too-easy out for irresponsible — even immoral — people?
“I’m not trying to shock anyone or make anyone uncomfortable,” says Bonow, who insists that she’s merely a conversation starter, not the new voice of the abortion-rights movement. “I’m just helping women talk about their lives, and there are as many kinds of abortion stories as there are individuals in this world. But my experience is well within the range of a normal experience — and we’ve never been told that’s ok. It seems shocking because we’ve never heard a woman talk about her abortion at all, let alone be casual or flippant about it.”
Bonow hopes to reach out beyond the coasts and urban areas to women in red states who are ready to share their abortion stories — without having to apologize for it, finally.
“Abortion is not a ‘necessary evil,’” she says. “It’s a positive component of a society helping women live their best lives. And we can’t fight against what’s being lobbed at us by saying we’re sorry all the time.”
Amelia Bonow will speak on Wednesday, January 18, at the New Vic (33 W. Victoria St.) at 6 p.m. as part of the Santa Barbara Pro-Choice Coalition’s celebration of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. See etcsb’s website for info and tickets.
Starshine Roshell is the author of Broad Assumptions.