I Had An Abortion 2.0

Amie Newman

Women are sharing abortion experiences and support via the #ihadanabortion Twitter campaign, and (surprise!) everyone has an opinion. But Steph Herold, the woman behind the campaign, tells Rewire why she did it and why this is "just a start."

By now you’ve heard about or seen the Twitter campaign involving the hashtag #ihadanabortion. It’s the brainchild of Steph Herold, a reproductive justice advocate, and clearly a woman who cares about the reproductive health experiences of her fellow females. Using “#ihadanabortion,” Herold is encouraging women to “come out” on twitter if you’ve had an abortion; or even if you haven’t and you just want to offer support for destigmatizing women’s abortion experiences.

The “campaign” (if you can call it that – it may be more of a new media consciousness-raising), arose, in part, from Herold’s frustration with the way the anti-choice movement has attempted to make abortion seem like the “sin of a few bad women” rather than “a regular part of women’s lives.”

It’s sort of the new media extension of the “I Had An Abortion” campaign which popped up a few years ago – spearheaded by Jennifer Baumgardner who created the “I Had An Abortion” t-shirts and, with Gillian Aldrich, associated documentary and book, “Abortion & Life,” and carried on by filmmakers like Penny Lane (“The Abortion Diaries”), entrepeneur advocates like Emily Barklow who founded Our Truths, Neustras Verdades (a magazine devoted to telling women’s abortion stories which is now distributed by the organization Exhale – in and of itself an exercise in using the power of women’s voices in the abortion discussion) and others.

It’s not the first time, of course, women have utilized new media tools for authentic story-sharing around reproductive health – but specifically abortion – experiences.

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Perhaps the first non-biased, judgement-free abortion-storytelling zone online was I’mNotSorry.net. The site was created by a “passionately pro-choice woman” who wanted to offer a safe, online space for women who didn’t regret their abortions to share their stories. Since then, women have tweeted their abortions, shared their experiences on YouTube, in blogs and more.

Maybe the #ihadanabortion twitter campaign has struck a chord because of the nature of twitter. On a CNN report about the campaign, the female commentator asks in a somewhat shocked voice, “Is abortion something to tweet about?” and calls what women are tweeting “blunt.”

I think the question answers itself, no? If women who have abortions are tweeting about those abortions – and others who support keeping abortion safe and legal in this country are tweeting support – then, yes, abortion is something to tweet about. And, yes, some of the tweets are blunt. There’s nothing wrong with that. The twitter campaign has struck a chord because women are daring to speak about their personal experiences with abortion – and aren’t hiding. As Sarah Seltzer writes on Alternet about the campaign,

Whenever these kinds of topics pop up on twitter, whether it’s women tweeting about birth, abortion, or miscarriages there are always some people who get squeamish about publicizing or trivializing what they deem to be a personal moment. This is especially true when it comes abortion. Many folks don’t want to be reminded that it happens.

Women aren’t hiding from anti-choice advocates who bully and denounce and stigmatize and lob hate. Women aren’t hiding from their own experiences, either – keeping them locked away. They are acknowledging the decision and moving ahead with their lives.

It’s happened with the gay rights movement (as you’ll read below) and, to an extent, it’s happening with the birth-activist movement – sharing stories of miscarriages and traumatic births – and also with women being more willing to share the horrific experiences, publicly, of being raped, as well.  Heather Corinna speaks to Jennifer Baumgardner about her campaign to break the silence around rape in our culture and explores this idea further.

Clearly the push to “out” yourself via a t-shirt or, in this case, a tweet has met with controversy – from both pro- and anti-choice advocates. Why though? The most vocally opposed to these sorts of public proclamations are those who are clearly anti-choice. They are those who profess a deep, angry opposition to women being allowed to terminate a pregnancy, under federal law. Dig deeper though and it may be more about how challenging it truly is, on a grand scale over a long period of time, to discount women’s personal experiences. As women “out” themselves, it creates a shared-experience that becomes increasingly more difficult to politically argue away. It’s dangerous – yes. It’s dangerous for individual women, to a degree, and it’s dangerous for the movement. Stories aren’t always strategic. They aren’t about talking points or key messages. They don’t always tell you the story you want to hear. They conjure up pain some of us don’t want to feel or stir sadness we may not want to acknowledge. Sometimes they’ll even point out the flaws in our own movement or political strategy. This is positive and productive and necessary, however, to progress.

And, clearly, coming out about ones’ abortion is not going away.

With that in mind, I asked Steph Herold, the courageous woman (and, full disclosure, an occasional Rewire contributor), about her thoughts on what she’s sparked with her twitter “coming out” thus far.

AN: Why did you do this – was it the election results or the political climate in general (even prior to the elections)?

SH: Honestly, I could have done this a week ago or last year with the same motivations. Unfortunately, abortion carries a stigma no matter who is in power. Last week, I read this blog post where the writer compares the modern pro-choice movement to the gay rights movement in the 1970s. What strengthened the gay rights movement then, according to her, was people coming out, and the general public realizing that homosexuality is more common and prevalent (and normal!) than they ever imagined. The author of the post posed an interesting question: why don’t we do that for abortion rights? That really struck a chord with me, and what better venue than twitter? The anti-choice movement has tried to make abortion the sin of a few bad women. In reality, abortion is a regular part of women’s lives. 

AN: Do you want to comment on the CNN coverage (or other coverage) thus far? Do you feel people understand what you’re trying to do?

SH: I was disapointed by both the CNN coverage and the PBS coverage, but for different reasons. CNN showed some of the poignant tweets on the hashtag, but didn’t seem to understand that this is about women’s stories and women’s lives, not about politics or pushing people’s buttons. This is about removing shame from an experience 1 out of 3 US women have, and using a popular social media tool to do so.

PBS only had commentators who clearly do not understand the value of social media. They didn’t reach out to me to try to understand why I started the hashtag, and not understanding the point, they were immediately dismissive. I was hoping that they would reach out to women using the hashtag or at least demonstrate that they had actually read some of the tweets. Thankfully, they responded to some of my critiques and I’m waiting to hear back from the producers about doing a follow-up episode. 

AN: Have women responded the way you thought they would? Have you received any particularly poignant responses?

SH: When I sent out the initial tweet last week, I had no idea what to expect. I have been overwhelmed (in a good way!) by how many women have come forward and started talking about their abortions, women who previously weren’t part of the online pro-choice community.  Unfortuantely, a lot of anti-choice groups and individuals have taken to tweeting their misinformation and hate using the hashtag, but for the most part, the hashtag remains a really powerful timeline of women (and men) supporting each other’s reproductive health decisions.

There are so many poignant ones. A few that stick out in my mind:

MT @karendtregaskin: #IhadAnAbortion & thank GOD b/c otherwise I’d still be tied legally financially & emotionally to abusive partner.

RT @najalocavore: my partner & I are far more capable parents mentally, emotionally, phyisically, financially now b/c #ihadanabortion at 19

RT @chelsad: I’m adopted &appreciate what my bio-mom did, but when pregnancy made me too sick to keep a roof over my head, #ihadanabortion

RT @ SexWrkrs4Choice
After I told my mom #ihadanabortion she told me about hers>she told my Gma about both>Gma told about illegal AB

AN: What would you like other women’s organizations and individual advocates to do (if anything) to help the effort/support the effort?

SH: Women’s health organizations do a fantastic job of working to increase access to reproductive health services and fighting anti-choice legislation nation-wide. But we need to learn how to better support women who exercise their reproductive rights, including figuring out how to decrease the stigma of abortion so more women feel comfortable talking about their experiences. We need to learn how to welcome all women who’ve had abortions into the pro-choice movement, and perhaps this #IHadAnAbortion hashtag is a start. 

News Politics

Democratic Party Platform: Repeal Bans on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

When asked this month about the platform’s opposition to Hyde, Hillary Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said that he had not “been informed of that” change to the platform though he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde Amendment.”

Democrats voted on their party platform Monday, codifying for the first time the party’s stated commitment to repealing restrictions on federal funding for abortion care.

The platform includes a call to repeal the Hyde Amendment, an appropriations ban on federal funding for abortion reimplemented on a yearly basis. The amendment disproportionately affects people of color and those with low incomes.

“We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion—regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured,” states the Democratic Party platform. “We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment.”

The platform also calls for an end to the Helms Amendment, which ensures that “no foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning.”

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Though Helms allows funding for abortion care in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment, the Obama administration has failed to enforce those guarantees.

Despite the platform’s opposition to the restrictions on abortion care funding, it makes no mention of how the anti-choice measures would be rolled back.

Both presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have promised to address Hyde and Helms if elected. Clinton has said she would “fix the Helms Amendment.”

Speaking at the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum in January, Clinton said that the Hyde Amendment “is just hard to justify because … certainly the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.” In 2008, Clinton’s campaign told Rewire that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

When asked this month about the platform’s opposition to Hyde, Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said in an interview with the Weekly Standard that he had not “been informed of that” change to the platform though he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

“The Hyde amendment and Helms amendment have prevented countless low-income women from being able to make their own decisions about health, family, and future,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement, addressing an early draft of the platform. “These amendments have ensured that a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion is a right that’s easier to access if you have the resources to afford it. That’s wrong and stands directly in contrast with the Democratic Party’s principles, and we applaud the Party for reaffirming this in the platform.”

News Law and Policy

Texas Lawmaker’s ‘Coerced Abortion’ Campaign ‘Wildly Divorced From Reality’

Teddy Wilson

Anti-choice groups and lawmakers in Texas are charging that coerced abortion has reached epidemic levels, citing bogus research published by researchers who oppose legal abortion care.

A Texas GOP lawmaker has teamed up with an anti-choice organization to raise awareness about the supposed prevalence of forced or coerced abortion, which critics say is “wildly divorced from reality.”

Rep. Molly White (R-Belton) during a press conference at the state capitol on July 13 announced an effort to raise awareness among public officials and law enforcement that forced abortion is illegal in Texas.

White said in a statement that she is proud to work alongside The Justice Foundation (TJF), an anti-choice group, in its efforts to tell law enforcement officers about their role in intervening when a pregnant person is being forced to terminate a pregnancy. 

“Because the law against forced abortions in Texas is not well known, The Justice Foundation is offering free training to police departments and child protective service offices throughout the State on the subject of forced abortion,” White said.

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White was joined at the press conference by Allan Parker, the president of The Justice Foundation, a “Christian faith-based organization” that represents clients in lawsuits related to conservative political causes.

Parker told Rewire that by partnering with White and anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), TJF hopes to reach a wider audience.

“We will partner with anyone interested in stopping forced abortions,” Parker said. “That’s why we’re expanding it to police, social workers, and in the fall we’re going to do school counselors.”

White only has a few months remaining in office, after being defeated in a closely contested Republican primary election in March. She leaves office after serving one term in the state GOP-dominated legislature, but her short time there was marked by controversy.

During the Texas Muslim Capitol Day, she directed her staff to “ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws.”

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in an email to Rewire that White’s education initiative overstates the prevalence of coerced abortion. “Molly White’s so-called ‘forced abortion’ campaign is yet another example that shows she is wildly divorced from reality,” Busby said.

There is limited data on the how often people are forced or coerced to end a pregnancy, but Parker alleges that the majority of those who have abortions may be forced or coerced.

‘Extremely common but hidden’

“I would say that they are extremely common but hidden,” Parker said. “I would would say coerced or forced abortion range from 25 percent to 60 percent. But, it’s a little hard be to accurate at this point with our data.”

Parker said that if “a very conservative 10 percent” of the about 60,000 abortions that occur per year in Texas were due to coercion, that would mean there are about 6,000 women per year in the state that are forced to have an abortion. Parker believes that percentage is much higher.

“I believe the number is closer to 50 percent, in my opinion,” Parker said. 

There were 54,902 abortions in Texas in 2014, according to recently released statistics from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). The state does not collect data on the reasons people seek abortion care. 

White and Parker referenced an oft cited study on coerced abortion pushed by the anti-choice movement.

“According to one published study, sixty-four percent of American women who had abortions felt forced or unduly pressured by someone else to have an unwanted abortion,” White said in a statement.

This statistic is found in a 2004 study about abortion and traumatic stress that was co-authored by David Reardon, Vincent Rue, and Priscilla Coleman, all of whom are among the handful of doctors and scientists whose research is often promoted by anti-choice activists.

The study was cited in a report by the Elliot Institute for Social Sciences Research, an anti-choice organization founded by Reardon. 

Other research suggests far fewer pregnant people are coerced into having an abortion.

Less than 2 percent of women surveyed in 1987 and 2004 reported that a partner or parent wanting them to abort was the most important reason they sought the abortion, according to a report by the Guttmacher Institute.

That same report found that 24 percent of women surveyed in 1987 and 14 percent surveyed in 2004 listed “husband or partner wants me to have an abortion” as one of the reasons that “contributed to their decision to have an abortion.” Eight percent in 1987 and 6 percent in 2004 listed “parents want me to have an abortion” as a contributing factor.

‘Flawed research’ and ‘misinformation’  

Busby said that White used “flawed research” to lobby for legislation aimed at preventing coerced abortions in Texas.

“Since she filed her bogus coerced abortion bill—which did not pass—last year, she has repeatedly cited flawed research and now is partnering with the Justice Foundation, an organization known to disseminate misinformation and shameful materials to crisis pregnancy centers,” Busby said.  

White sponsored or co-sponsored dozens of bills during the 2015 legislative session, including several anti-choice bills. The bills she sponsored included proposals to increase requirements for abortion clinics, restrict minors’ access to abortion care, and ban health insurance coverage of abortion services.

White also sponsored HB 1648, which would have required a law enforcement officer to notify the Department of Family and Protective Services if they received information indicating that a person has coerced, forced, or attempted to coerce a pregnant minor to have or seek abortion care.

The bill was met by skepticism by both Republican lawmakers and anti-choice activists.

State affairs committee chairman Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) told White during a committee hearing the bill needed to be revised, reported the Texas Tribune.

“This committee has passed out a number of landmark pieces of legislation in this area, and the one thing I think we’ve learned is they have to be extremely well-crafted,” Cook said. “My suggestion is that you get some real legal folks to help engage on this, so if you can keep this moving forward you can potentially have the success others have had.”

‘Very small piece of the puzzle of a much larger problem’

White testified before the state affairs committee that there is a connection between women who are victims of domestic or sexual violence and women who are coerced to have an abortion. “Pregnant women are most frequently victims of domestic violence,” White said. “Their partners often threaten violence and abuse if the woman continues her pregnancy.”

There is research that suggests a connection between coerced abortion and domestic and sexual violence.

Dr. Elizabeth Miller, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh, told the American Independent that coerced abortion cannot be removed from the discussion of reproductive coercion.

“Coerced abortion is a very small piece of the puzzle of a much larger problem, which is violence against women and the impact it has on her health,” Miller said. “To focus on the minutia of coerced abortion really takes away from the really broad problem of domestic violence.”

A 2010 study co-authored by Miller surveyed about 1,300 men and found that 33 percent reported having been involved in a pregnancy that ended in abortion; 8 percent reported having at one point sought to prevent a female partner from seeking abortion care; and 4 percent reported having “sought to compel” a female partner to seek an abortion.

Another study co-authored by Miller in 2010 found that among the 1,300 young women surveyed at reproductive health clinics in Northern California, about one in five said they had experienced pregnancy coercion; 15 percent of the survey respondents said they had experienced birth control sabotage.

‘Tactic to intimidate and coerce women into not choosing to have an abortion’

TJF’s so-called Center Against Forced Abortions claims to provide legal resources to pregnant people who are being forced or coerced into terminating a pregnancy. The website includes several documents available as “resources.”

One of the documents, a letter addressed to “father of your child in the womb,” states that that “you may not force, coerce, or unduly pressure the mother of your child in the womb to have an abortion,” and that you could face “criminal charge of fetal homicide.”

The letter states that any attempt to “force, unduly pressure, or coerce” a women to have an abortion could be subject to civil and criminal charges, including prosecution under the Federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act.

The document cites the 2007 case Lawrence v. State as an example of how one could be prosecuted under Texas law.

“What anti-choice activists are doing here is really egregious,” said Jessica Mason Pieklo, Rewire’s vice president of Law and the Courts. “They are using a case where a man intentionally shot his pregnant girlfriend and was charged with murder for both her death and the death of the fetus as an example of reproductive coercion. That’s not reproductive coercion. That is extreme domestic violence.”

“To use a horrific case of domestic violence that resulted in a woman’s murder as cover for yet another anti-abortion restriction is the very definition of callousness,” Mason Pieklo added.

Among the other resources that TJF provides is a document produced by Life Dynamics, a prominent anti-choice organization based in Denton, Texas.

Parker said a patient might go to a “pregnancy resource center,” fill out the document, and staff will “send that to all the abortionists in the area that they can find out about. Often that will stop an abortion. That’s about 98 percent successful, I would say.”

Reproductive rights advocates contend that the document is intended to mislead pregnant people into believing they have signed away their legal rights to abortion care.

Abortion providers around the country who are familiar with the document said it has been used for years to deceive and intimidate patients and providers by threatening them with legal action should they go through with obtaining or providing an abortion.

Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, previously told Rewire that abortion providers from across the country have reported receiving the forms.

“It’s just another tactic to intimidate and coerce women into not choosing to have an abortion—tricking women into thinking they have signed this and discouraging them from going through with their initial decision and inclination,” Saporta said.

Busby said that the types of tactics used by TFJ and other anti-choice organizations are a form of coercion.

“Everyone deserves to make decisions about abortion free of coercion, including not being coerced by crisis pregnancy centers,” Busby said. “Anyone’s decision to have an abortion should be free of shame and stigma, which crisis pregnancy centers and groups like the Justice Foundation perpetuate.”

“Law enforcement would be well advised to seek their own legal advice, rather than rely on this so-called ‘training,” Busby said.