Amelia Bonow was in a Lyft, headed to Seattle’s Neptune Theatre, when she told the driver what awaited her there: She had co-founded a movement called “Shout Your Abortion,” aimed at humanizing, normalizing and de-stigmatizing the procedure. It had spread from Seattle across the nation, and resulted in a book of personal essays by abortion clients, and providers, that was being launched before a crowd of supporters that night.
The driver had a story of his own, apparently, because at some point during the ride, Bonow posted on Facebook: ” … having my one thousandth conversation with a male Lyft driver who knocked somebody up who had an abortion and hasn’t ever talked about it …”
Until now. Bonow and the Shout Your Abortion (SYA) movement have put a value on talking about a procedure that, for a long time, has been unnecessarily taboo. The goal is to help people understand that abortion is an experience shared by people of all ages, races, religions, incomes, genders and backgrounds.
In fact, one in four women — or 23.7 percent — will have an abortion by age 45. And an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll conducted in July found that 71 percent of Americans support Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal, and safe. That’s a record high.
The “Shout Your Abortion” book — released last month and launched with events at the Neptune, Elliott Bay Book Company and beyond — taps into all of that, with stories of nearly 100 people ranging in age from 19 to 85. Two had abortions before it was legal, and one had hers in Mexico two years ago because she lives in a part of the country where abortions weren’t easily accessible.
In the three years since it started, the Shout Your Abortion movement has turned women’s experiences into political firepower. It began when lawmakers threatened a government shutdown unless funding of Planned Parenthood was eliminated, and Congress put then-Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards through more than five hours of questioning.
Bonow had just had a safe and legal abortion, and wrote a Facebook post, then a piece for Salon, praising Planned Parenthood and showing no shame for her choice. The title of the piece was “My Abortion Made Me Happy.”
“I’m telling you my story plainly, proudly, flippantly even, because we have all been brainwashed to believe that the absence of negative emotions around having an abortion is the mark of an emotionally bankrupt person,” she wrote. “It’s not. I have a good heart and my abortion made me happy.”
Her friend, the Seattle writer Lindy West, read the piece and added the hashtag — #ShoutYourAbortion — that was retweeted over 150,000 times.
Stories started pouring in from all corners of the country. From older women and younger, established professionals and students just starting out. They came from victims of incest and rape, people of different genders and political and religious backgrounds. Some were trapped in abusive relationships, or weren’t medically able to carry a wanted pregnancy.
The stories serve to combat anti-choice rhetoric that Bonow and West believe keep people in secrecy, shame, poverty, toxic and abusive relationships and devalue their ambitions.
(I was part of the chorus, writing a column about the choice I made in college, and how I paid for the procedure myself and had no regrets, only a desire to reach the goals that having a child may have sidelined, or eliminated altogether.)
“I’m so proud of us,” Bonow said, “of this community for pushing through the vulnerability and discomfort and continuing to listen to people who say, ‘Hi, I want to tell you about something that happened to me.'”
In the time since, Bonow has created a Seattle nonprofit, traveled the country and over the last year, and with the help of West and editor Emily Nokes, turned some of the essays into a book that she called “a physical manifestation of a movement.”
As Bonow prepared for the Neptune and other launch events, West appeared on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.”
“It’s just people telling the truth … about an experience that they were taught to feel shame about,” West told Noah. “Everyone knows and loves someone who has had an abortion. That’s just reality.”
The book also includes the words of abortion providers who believe in the work they do for women.
“I have never met a group of people more motivated to help people be free,” Bonow said.
And that’s an important point: Abortion isn’t just part of women’s health care. It allows women to live the rest of their lives. To complete educations, pursue careers, establish themselves and livelihoods so that when and if they choose to have children, they are prepared and capable.
That’s nothing to feel shame about, Bonow said.
“I’ve learned the way abortion works in people’s lives,” she said. “We can’t deal with it in the abstract. We have to show the proof: Our lives, our careers. People getting out of bad relationships and poverty.
“It’s the whole rest of your life. And to feel relief about having an abortion doesn’t mean that it didn’t matter.”
Bonow compared the SYA movement to those speaking out through the #MeToo movement: “They’re saying, ‘I want you to understand the things that have happened to me in order to understand and love me better.'”
Even though Shout Your Abortion started and continues to thrive online, Bonow believes a book is the best way to get the message of choice to more people who wouldn’t find the movement otherwise.
“With a book, you can encounter people by accident,” Bonow said. “Social media is where we think we’re seeing everything, but it’s not made up of people outside our lane.”
Shout Your Abortion is mailing copies of the book to abortion clinics all over the country so that patients can read it before or after, and know they are not alone, and that their decision is understood by others.
“If they are feeling silence and shame and self-hatred,” Bonow said, “they will have a profoundly different experience.”
She hopes that everyone — men, women, young, old, religious and otherwise — will read the book, or at least page through it. Look at the photos and see people just like them, or their wives, daughters and friends.
“I believe in it so much,” Bonow said. “Nothing like it has ever existed and it will expand your perspective in a way that will allow you to love other people better.
“Bravery is contagious,” she said. “We are giving each other permission to talk about all these things, and as a result, to live our own lives.”
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