Women are talking about their abortions on TikTok

“Have an abortion with me,” says a Brooklyn single mother named Sunni as she twirls around her kitchen to the sound of jazz piano, before walking TikTok viewers through the steps she took to end her pregnancy at home.

With states expanding abortion restrictions and the issue likely to be at the forefront of presidential elections, women are creating videos on social media describing their abortions and sharing practical information on how to get one.

Sunni explained to viewers that she wanted information as she was planning the abortion. “This is the video I was looking for,” she said.

The reaction to his video, which has been viewed more than 400,000 times and sparked comments of both commiseration and condemnation, shows how deeply personal and controversial the issue remains in the run-up to November's election.

One viewer, an activist with the group Protect Life Michigan, remixed the video on the group's TikTok account, criticizing Sunni for his lighthearted tone and for making the video.

“I just don't understand how we're making a video and we're laughing and joking about the abortion process,” the activist said.

The Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022 led to a cascade of abortion bans and restrictions across much of the United States. Twenty-one states now ban or limit the procedure before the standard set by Roe.

In response, there has been an explosion of abortion-related social media content – ​​some of it overtly political, some informational, and some testimonial as women search for answers, seek support, or simply seek to share.

The landscape of abortion access is changing rapidly. Last month, the justices debated whether to restrict access to a widely used abortion pill, with a decision expected in June or July. This month, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld an 1864 law banning nearly all abortions.

Former President Donald Trump took credit for the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, but has since distanced himself from the idea of ​​a national abortion ban. President Biden, meanwhile, sees an advantage in attributing the increasingly narrow abortion landscape to Republicans.

With laws constantly changing from state to state, Sunnis and others have created TikToks to explain how to obtain abortion pills and do the procedure at home. In other videos on the site, women grappled with their own experiences, expressing everything from relief to remorse. These personal videos became fodder for political campaigns, which used them to argue for expanded abortion rights or further restrictions.

Confused about where and what forms of abortion are permitted from state to state, young people seeking to terminate their pregnancies are increasingly turning to social media for guidance, researchers have found.

“Chaos, confusion and stigma are the point of abortion bans and targeted regulations,” said Rebecca Nall, founder of an online database that directs users to abortion resources.

“More and more people are going online with their most personal questions,” he added, “and more and more people are offering information.”

Before Roe v. Wade, desperate women called Jane, an underground abortion network, for advice on what to do in case of unwanted pregnancies. Subsequently, campaigns encouraged women to talk openly about their abortion.

With women now turning to TikTok for information and as a vehicle for self-expression, the app has also become a forum for discussion. In some videos, viewers asked practical questions about how to obtain abortion drugs or how to find a provider. They shared fears of physical pain and anxieties about the logistical complexities of organizing one. Other viewers expressed regret over having an abortion.

Some voices were critical, blaming women for having abortions and speaking about them openly, without remorse.

The women who share their stories – and the viewers who write to them asking for advice – are engaging in conversations that may be at risk. Attorneys general in some states have expressed a desire to criminally prosecute those who “aid and abet” abortions, including those who provide information, and to subpoena online postings.

Sunni, 30, who asked that her full name not be used for fear she could be further targeted by abortion opponents, said in an interview that she became interested in reproductive health justice when she was pregnant of his daughter in 2021.

She had become active on TikTok and was alarmed to find videos of people recommending herbal remedies such as parsley to induce an abortion. When she was pregnant last year, after experiencing a difficult birth for the first time, she decided to have an abortion and share the experience with her followers.

With TikTok awash with activism from anti-abortion activists and abortion rights supporters, Sunni said she wanted to focus on the practical aspects of medical abortion, the most common form in the United States. This included orders to take the mifepristone and misoprostol pills and conveniences—like Totino's frozen pizza—that she relied on to aid in pain management and recovery.

“It's something that so many people go through,” she said in an interview. “There are people around you who are going through this thing and until they feel normal and accepted, they won't be able to heal.”

The video he made received more than 1,000 comments. Sunni said she received hundreds of messages from girls and young women seeking guidance from her on how to get the pills and manage the pain.

“You have to walk it,” he said, “and no one shows you how.”

Another testimony came from Mikaela Attu, a Canadian who said in an interview that she was shocked by the overturning of Roe v. Wade, especially since it is not difficult to access abortion care in Canada.

In a TikTok video, she took viewers to numerous hospital visits near her home in Vancouver, from an ultrasound to confirm her pregnancy to a shot of her feet in stirrups at the start of a procedure to terminate it.

In another video, viewed 7.5 million times, Ms Attu spoke of the pain of becoming pregnant by a man she loved, but not being able to go through with it.

Ms. Attu and her husband plan to have children, she said, but she had mental health problems when she became pregnant last year and didn't feel ready to start a family.

“I wanted to show that abortion is complicated,” she said.

Other women have used TikTok to express their grief over having an abortion.

A viewer of another woman's abortion video commented that it reminded her of the pain she endured when she was 16, during her own abortion.

Desireé Dallagiacomo, 33, a Californian writer and poet, recorded a video while preparing for an abortion appointment.

“I'm fine and I'm stable,” she told viewers, “and I just don't want a child.”

Ms. Dallagiacomo, 33, said in an interview that she wanted to share her story, in part, to challenge prevailing narratives about why people have abortions.

With abortion rights increasingly under fire, what women share about their abortions on social media has come under scrutiny.

The attorneys general of Texas, Alabama and Louisiana have expressed interest in prosecuting abortion providers and other groups that coordinate them, creating uncertainty over whether those who share information online can be held liable.

“There is a movement afoot to criminalize information,” said Mary Ziegler, a law professor at the University of California, Davis, who has written extensively on abortion.

In July, a Nebraska teenager was charged with concealing the death of her aborted fetus and sentenced to 90 days in jail. In the case, prosecutors subpoenaed Facebook messages she exchanged with her mother, in which the two discussed the abortion pill.

The Nebraska case suggests that conversations people have about abortion can be used against them, Professor Ziegler said.

“In the post-Dobbs era, there is an interesting and complicated trade-off,” he said, between sharing stories to destigmatize the experience “and the fact that speaking out could create unintended legal risks.”

The specter of punishment for sharing information about abortion was just one way Ms. Dallagiacomo said she found her experience with abortion “isolating.”

“There is so much that keeps us from honestly telling our story,” he said.

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