Amelia Bonow unapologetically supports abortion. She’s on a mission to bring it out of the shadows and into broad daylight for all to see — a crusade to eliminate shame, break free of isolation and eradicate the “she who must be not be named” shroud surrounding the word “abortion.” The nonprofit Shout Your Abortion (SYA) has empowered thousands to talk openly about their experiences. As one of its co-founders and co-directors, Bonow wants to normalize the abortion conversation.
In the fall of 2015, Bonow proudly announced on her Facebook page that she terminated a pregnancy. Incensed by the the House of Representatives voting to defund Planned Parenthood, Bonow wrote, “Having an abortion made me happy in a totally unqualified way. Why wouldn’t I be happy that I was not forced to become a mother?”
Bonow texted the post to her friend, “Shrill” author Lindy West, who asked if she could share it on Twitter using the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion. Thus, a movement began.
Bonow and Kimberly Morrison were already working on compiling abortion stories for a zine. A website followed, and now, a raw and revolutionary book titled “Shout Your Abortion,” with personal essays edited by Bonow and musician Emily Nokes.
In the book, each person writes about their experiences and circumstances surrounding having an abortion. For example, Laurel and her partner made the mutual decision for her to stop using birth control. She got pregnant quickly and her partner was unsupportive. Those featured are from all areas of the country, ages and some have had multiple abortions. The book also includes resources and Q&As with abortion providers.
Bonow grew up in Gig Harbor and moved to Seattle after graduating high school. She was studying to become a therapist when she shared her abortion story. She’d volunteered at a local crisis center and describes herself as deeply interested in people and what they’re going through.
Bonow has fully embraced her role as advocate. She says the culture around abortion is currently a rigged game. No matter what, women cannot come up with the “right answer” for why they may choose to have an abortion. But the more people go public, the more the stigma goes away. Bonow wants no part of respectability politics.
I sat down with Bonow to discuss the new book, the impact of SYA so far and what she’s learned about abortion after hearing thousands of personal stories.
Lisa Edge: In the introduction, you write about sending an email to a dozen or so friends and family to let them know you were pregnant and going to have an abortion. Why did you make that announcement?
Amelia Bonow: I have just always been a person who wants to be really real with my closest friends and family. I think that in that moment of realizing that I was pregnant — of immediately knowing that I was going to have an abortion, I also knew I was going to want to talk about it or at least going to want to be open about the fact that that had happened with the people close to me. I knew that I was going to be able to do that because all of those people who were cc’d on that email are pro-choice and I just know that about them.
LE: When you go into more detail about your experience later in the book, you write: “The nurse called my name and smiled at me: I kissed my boyfriend, rose to my feet, and walked toward the end of a problem.” That particular line captured your resolve about what was about to happen.
AB: Thank you, I appreciate that. I do frame my abortion as a positive experience because it meant that I wasn’t going to be pregnant and I didn’t want to be pregnant. I think a lot of people are like, “Oh you must have been scared” or “You must have felt bad” or even when people are like, “No one wants to have an abortion.” When I found myself pregnant with a child I didn’t want to have, I really wanted to have an abortion.
Everyone needs to have the right to subjectively define what that experience is for themselves. But the fact is we’re not really able to do that right now because there’s so much negative cultural noise and we’re not really talking about any of the potential benefits of abortion to society and to women and families and communities. All of that stuff has been totally pushed underground and silenced.
No matter who you are, you know people who have had abortions. By the numbers, it’s really not possible that you don’t. Ninety-five percent of women say that they experience relief after having an abortion and the vast majority of people don’t regret having an abortion.
LE: You also write, “I ache for the people who feel ashamed of their abortions because I think shame is dangerous.” Do you think SYA is making an impact on that?
AB: I know that we are. So many people contact me and tell me their own stories and often tell me something about how encountering SYA materials — whether that’s our book or our website, which is a place where you can add your own abortion experience in text or video. There’s now hundreds of different experiences.
You don’t have to feel ashamed. You don’t have to feel bad. In fact, you should feel proud of yourself for making a choice that is best for you. Just seeing the conversation happening, even if you’re not sharing your own story, can eradicate shame by just letting you know that there is an alternative.
One of the things that I’m most excited about is the book will be available in the waiting and recovery rooms of 100 plus abortion clinics. We got a grant to send it all over the country, so people who are having abortions or have just had abortions are seeing this book on the day they have their abortion.
For many people, that shame won’t even ever get a chance to take root to the same degree that it would have if you hadn’t known there is some alternative to total silence and self-hatred about it.
LE: That’s fantastic.
AB: Isn’t that amazing? It’s so beautiful to me. I can’t even think about it without crying. I hear all the time from people — it will be someone who had an abortion years ago and has felt really fucked up about it for a long time, until they started being able to process it in a different way, and they’re just like, “If I had seen this book at that time, everything would have been different.” It makes me really happy to think about it working. It’s like a stigma disruption.
LE: Did you envision a Facebook post evolving into a campaign, swag and now a book?
AB: I had an inkling, from the instant that I posted it; there was so much just clear need. People were just ready to talk. I cannot believe that the floodgates have not broken open like this before. And so, it continued to sort of explode and then the hashtag was used hundreds of thousands of times in a few days.
It didn’t surprise me because it felt like, how have they kept us all silent for this long? But you know we’re also conditioned to not talk about the things that happen to us.
This is about more than talking about our abortions. When you read these stories, these aren’t just people that are talking about their abortions. They’re talking about rape and abuse and DV [domestic violence] and addiction and mental illness and being poor as shit and they’re saying. ‘This is my life, this is what I’ve been through and all of this stuff makes me who I am and my abortion is a part of all of that.’
In so many places in the book, people connect their abortion to helping them get out of really bad circumstances.
LE: There are 45 personal essays and stories of women, non-binary and trans folks who have had abortions. How did you all decide who would be included?
AB: The first thing we knew we wanted to start with was geographical diversity because my own experience having an abortion as a White woman from a middle-class background living on Capitol Hill, access was not ever even in my mind. I just knew in the moment that I realized I was pregnant I was gonna be able to go down the street to the Planned Parenthood.
I had always known that I was going to be able to afford my abortion. There weren’t any weird waiting-period laws on the books or these other sort of ‘trap’ laws, as they’re called, which is targeted regulation of abortion providers — laws that are in places like South Carolina and all over the South that are geared toward making it more difficult for abortion providers to function as clinics.
We finished the book right before Justice Kennedy retired. It was like a couple days after submitting the manuscript that we learned that Trump was going to appoint another Supreme Court justice and that Roe v. Wade was basically toast.
I don’t know how many stories off the top of my head, but probably a third of the stories are from people who are in states with trigger laws meaning that abortion will be illegal as soon as Roe is overturned.
And the fact that those people chose to be like, “You know what I live in a Southern state, I am a woman who has had an abortion and I’m going to show you my face and my story in this book that will live forever in time in spite of the fact that abortion may be criminalized a couple of years from now.” That is just so inspiring to me. We make each other braver by doing that.
LE: As you were putting the book together was there anything that surprised you?
AB: I don’t know why it would surprise me, but the number of stories that included an element of rape or violence or abuse was overwhelming.
I don’t know why it felt like a shock, considering that, like myself and every woman I know, has experienced that kind of thing from men.
But as it was coming together and as we were sitting with people in their stories and doing the very light editing that we did with people, it was overwhelming. And it was also happening at the same time — we were in the final push of editing during all of that Kavanaugh shit and it was just, it was just a lot.
LE: There’s also a section devoted to glamorizing abortion with beautiful photos to go with it. Was that something you all wanted to include early on?
AB: As that essay explains, we’ve all been told that the worst possible thing you could ever do is glamorize abortion. I think that being afraid of the word, being afraid to say the word, let alone wear the word on your body has been really really damaging to our movement.
It’s just allowed the other side to totally run the conversation and it’s impossible to advocate for something that we can’t say out loud.
That’s why we talk about it with clothing and art and tattoos and you know graffiti. I want to talk about it everywhere.
I’m a proud ass woman and I had an abortion and I don’t see what’s negative about that. It’s just kind of owning your life on your own terms. It’s certainly not for everyone.
LE: If you had to pick one takeaway that you want people to gain from reading this book or just about abortion in general what would it be?
AB: No matter how you feel about abortion, it is just a part of the human experience. It has been since the beginning of time and it always will be because having babies is not easy. And the world is hard and people need to not have a child every time they get pregnant. It’s just a reality that we need to accept and like just starting from that baseline.
I can’t tell you how many times people are like, ‘I had no idea that my own mother had an abortion, that my sister had an abortion.’
LE: Where do you see SYA five years from now?
AB: I just want to continue letting people know that this conversation is happening and encouraging them to find ways to make it happen in their own communities whatever that looks like. Real abortion stories are conspicuously absent from mass culture whether that’s portrayals in film or TV shows.
I hope that in five years we’re starting to see a world where people in progressive workplaces are calling in sick because they had an abortion, where people are not feeling as though it’s not a polite thing to talk about, where there’s a real place in the culture where that conversation is taking place, in the same way as we see with Me Too.
This conversation is just beginning. People have been doing abortion storytelling, abortion speak-outs for years and Shout Your Abortion is very much a continuation of a movement that has already been happening. I’m not trying to act like we invented talking about abortions.
We’re just gonna keep pushing, we’re gonna keep creating places for people to start this conversation in every possible way we can think of. And we’re gonna win. Culturally, we’re going to win.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Lisa Edge is a Staff Reporter covering arts, culture and equity. Have a story idea? She can be reached at lisae (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Lisa on Twitter @NewsfromtheEdge
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