A woman named Angie Jackson created an inevitable firestorm of controversy this week when she decided to live-tweet her medical abortion.
Jackson, 27, hit up her own blog, YouTube and Twitter with the ongoing details of her in-progress abortion, sparking an outpouring of support from the feminist blogosphere while anti-abortion activists did their anti-abortion dance. Comparisions were predictably made to Penelope Trunk’s miscarriage tweet, and the question was again raised as to whether the social media experience of abortion helps or harms women experiencing a crisis pregnancy.
I should disclose here that I have changed my mind considerably on the issue of abortion in the past decade. While I did, in the past, espouse an anti-abortion viewpoint (though less political than ethical, I never picketed a clinic or anything- my feeling was more that resources to promote birth control and assist struggling mothers were a better focus) I am currently relatively gray on the subject. I believe it should be safe and legal, but I think that to gloss over the experience does women a disservice and creates unnecessary friction between factions who would be better served having a productive dialogue on the issue. I don’t believe that as a feminist I have to accept every party line on the subject, and I don’t believe in solidarity for solidarity’s sake. I’ve heard and read abortion stories that were moving, sad, engaging and informative. That said, I don’t think this is one of them.
Via the magic of the internet, this very common experience (more than 35% of American women are said to opt for the procedure at least once in their lives, and 47% of abortions are obtained by women who previously had an abortion) has inspired pockets of support and advocacy, activism and of course, criticism. In the days following Jackson’s abortion, she received threats against herself and her son, a result she admits to being “naive” in not anticipating. But the idea of the issue of first person abortion stories being underrepresented on the internet is also somewhat naive- there are thriving, non-judgmental grassroots communities of women across the internet who not only talk about their abortions and crisis pregnancies, but remain largely under the radar and insular and exist in a relatively serene space of women educating other women. (Livejournal’s Vagina Pagina springs to mind.)
I think this particular instance, due in no small part to its sensationalism, is not doing the demographic of women of reproductive age a favor. When someone with so narrow a worldview and clear an agenda elects herself the voice of a group of women (Jackson’s handle of choice seems to be “AngieTheAntiTheist”) it is inevitable that the bulk of women who could be spoken for are not. Furthermore, as a feminist myself, I find Jackson’s assertions that she would die (I hear this a great deal more than is statistically possible- the vast majority of abortions are not life-saving) and that she was using two forms of birth control to be grating. With those repeating epithets, she’s lashing out her own judgment at women who have experienced a crisis pregnancy. Apparently, Jackson is a pretty, pretty princess different than the rest of us who just found ourselves on the wrong end of a pink line on a stick.
I can’t get past the fact that she is saying on one hand her actions don’t need justification while constantly spilling forth justifications for her actions. Which is it? If you refer to Penelope Trunk’s earlier, brief mention of miscarriage and abortion, she didn’t even hint at the reasons she found herself miscarrying at work and or seeking an abortion- she just said it, indicated that women often find themselves in that situation, and left it at that. Trunk paints an image of a woman who is in control of her life and her decisions, and not seeking anything (validation, dissent, a stage) from the community at large. Jackson followed up with a Twitter drama fest that seems to indicate the whole #livetweetingabortion thing was more about herself and her own experiences than breaking down social taboos.
When Trunk found herself at the center of a controversy because of her tweet, even pop-feminism blog Jezebel was critical that “anti-choicers” would have a field day with her candor:
And, unfortunately for everyone, now that this has gone national, the context and way in which Trunk framed this confirms the worst and most fantastical ideas of the anti-choice movement: that women (especially career women!) who have abortions all do so casually and callously on their lunch breaks, the way one might get a manicure. If Trunk thinks she’s done anything to help women in Wisconsin get better access to abortions (her defensive post asks readers to donate to Planned Parenthood), she obviously doesn’t know anything about how the anti-choice movement works.
But Jackson, on the other hand, does not possess that kind of matter of fact, in control voice. She sounds reactionary, unsure, angry and laden with emotional baggage. She offers a tremendous amount of detail as to the whys and hows of her abortion, but the conflicting backstory again seems to paint a crisis pregnancy as needing justification. What ever happened to “I’m a woman, sometimes women get pregnant and this is not always convenient” being all the reason we need? IUDs (with a success rate of over 99%) don’t have to fall out, children don’t have to be “special needs,” and lives don’t have to be in danger every time a woman gets pregnant at the worst time. The core issue here is that it’s nobody’s business. I’m all for destigmatization, but I am certainly not all for being expected to have a “good enough reason” to avoid being labeled irresponsible or stupid, nor do I support cloudy facts that don’t represent the reality a lot of women face.
As a woman and as a feminist, I’d much rather be spoken for by Penelope Trunk than Angie Jackson. What do you think? I’ve embedded Jackson’s video below- do you believe her use of social media during her abortion helped or harmed women in the same situation?