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Generation Gap

I had an opportunity today to listen to an interview on Issues for you Tissues with Mary Ann Sorrentino, pro-choice activist and former executive director of Planned Parenthood in Rhode Island. Called a “women’s health hero” and tireless advocate for reproductive choice and abortion rights, I was introduced to her via her article on Angie Jackson and #livetweetingabortion. While many pro-choice advocates and supporters were behind Angie all the way, I was surprised to read how judgmental and derisive Sorrentino was of Angie’s actions. At the time, though, I was too busy fighting off antiabortionites to do more than comment on her article. Then, today, I listened to that podcast, where Sorrentino expanded on her thoughts about Angie and abortion in general.

A few things that I had started to pick up in her article became very clear — particularly that there is a significant generation gap between Sorrentino and perhaps the other activists of her generation, and those of us who were born and raised after Roe vs. Wade. To be fair, I do think that some of her statements come out of an incorrect understanding of Twitter and the internet. But that doesn’t account for all of it. Many of the criticisms she has of Angie’s choices and actions are so similar to the statements I’ve heard from antiabortionites that she could probably pretend to be one and no one would be the wiser.

For example, in the interview she says that she has no problem with women talking about their abortions with friends, and you can almost see the image in her head of a handful of women talking together over tea and cookies. But discussing abortion on Twitter, in her view, isn’t discussion but “performing” for the world — and here she shows her lack of understanding of the technology — because “she wasn’t getting any feedback, or any responses, except in comments later”. Sorrentino describes #livetweetingabortion as performing in front of a screen, rather that a quiet discussion of personal matters among friends. The underlying message? You can talk about your abortion experiences amongst yourselves, but don’t you dare tell the whole world about them.

This leads right into another point that seemed to really bother her: ┬áthat Angie didn’t just talk about the emotional experiences, or the factors that led her to choose abortion. She told us exactly how she felt physically, how much pain she was in, how much she was bleeding — all the gory details. Sorrentino, at least by my perception, feels that putting so much detail out there will work against the pro-choice movement, and would make some women change their minds about abortion.

And here’s where I started to get really irritated, because the implication is that — and this carries particular weight coming from a former executive director of Planned Parenthood Rhode Island — the real details of how exactly an abortion is going to feel physically are being withheld from women so that it’s an easier choice to make. Seriously, if the details of Angie’s experience were enough to change any woman’s mind about having an RU486 abortion, those women probably shouldn’t be having one.

Something that’s become really clear to me over the past several weeks as I’ve become more and more involved in the issue of reproductive choice is that there’s a real problem on both sides when it comes to giving women accurate, complete information about their options. The pro-life Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) will give you great information and referrals if you want to keep your baby or give it up for adoption, but if you want to talk about abortion you’ll get graphic videos and materials designed to make abortion look as horrific and bloody and deadly as possible. They often talk about very uncommon adverse reactions and post-abortion risks that are barely substantiated by one or two studies as if they happen to all women who have them — breast cancer, clinical depression, infertility, hemorrhage, death. On the other hand, when you go into an abortion clinic to get an abortion, the focus is on giving you one, not on counseling you about your other options. There are plenty of stories from women who had bad experiences from both types of facilities.

I will never support pressuring women and pushing them to any choice that is not fully their own. But Sorrentino’s interview made me wonder exactly what’s being left out when women are told what to expect with their RU486 abortions.

I’m left with the impression that perhaps there is not much left for Sorrentino’s generation of pro-choice warriors to teach us. The battle we face now is different and the world has changed considerably. Online environments like Twitter and Facebook are where many of us communicate with our closest friends, and the speed of 21st century life means there is not as much time as there used to be for sharing stories over coffee or tea. Women like Angie are becoming the norm, not the exception. Angie may have been the first — at least the first to capture the attention of the mainstream — to live-tweet her abortion, but she won’t be the last. It saddens me to see the incredible generation gap between Sorrentino and women like Angie, and me. At the same time I feel like there’s so much more that we can do as women today to protect each woman’s right to choose — the reach of one person is so much greater because of the internet, and every one of us can make a bigger difference than was even imaginable in 1973.

Doing what Angie did, talking about her real life experience in real life terms, not whitewashing it to make it sound better to the opposition or making it easier for women to choose RU486 for themselves, but describing in 140 character bursts what she was going through in a way that all women could understand and identify with in some way — that is the first thing that women who have abortions can do, whether during or after or long after, to help crack the terrible wall that society has built around women who choose abortion. We’re told that talking about it is wrong, that telling our stories is unacceptable. We need to change that.

If you have a story, please tell it. Tell it in as much detail as you can, so that women who hear your story know what it was really like. Don’t worry about how it might look or sound to someone who doesn’t agree with your choice. Don’t worry about who might object. Tell your story to one person, or ten, or a hundred, or more. The more stories that are heard, the more we can overcome the stigma that is attached to abortion, and the more we can help women who need help to heal and move on after their abortions. There is nothing worse than feeling like you are alone in the world and that no one understands. When it comes to abortion, as many as 1 in 3 women will have an abortion in their lifetime, and the only reason we still feel alone is because our stories aren’t being told. Tell your story. Women are listening.

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We are steel

I was looking through a library of song lyrics that I add to when last.fm plays a cool new song I’ve never heard, searching for inspiration for a new blog name, when I happened upon “Steel” by Charlotte Martin. Immediately it struck me as an appropriate choice.

I’ve spent the last week or so in the virtual company of many strong women, but one in particular, who chose to talk about her medical (RU486) abortion as it happened, on Twitter. Going by @antitheistangie on Twitter, she’s gotten everything from a crowd of ardent supporters to crazy religious people trying to convert her (no easy task, if you know anything about her) to death threats serious enough to get police and FBI involved. The media has picked up the story worldwide and new articles and interviews are popping up every day.

I’m constantly astonished by how strong and unapologetic she is able to be no matter what criticism comes her way. Though I don’t know if she really knows it, she’s the embodiment of a strong woman: standing up for her rights, using her rights, and never, ever apologizing for it.

I really think that the main reason so many people have been upset by Angie’s actions on Twitter is that she hasn’t shown the requisite amount of shame — that even among people who support the right to choose, there’s a perception that if you have an abortion, you should be openly ashamed, constantly apologizing and justifying, and showing the rest of the world how sorry you are for your poor choices. Instead, Angie explained her reasons — even though she didn’t have to — and why abortion was the right choice for her and her family. And then explained them over and over again. But never did she show an ounce of shame for her choice, never did she apologize for making the same choice many women do every single day. And that’s what’s got the anti-abortion, anti-choice Twitterers so up in arms.

If you want a good laugh, check out the #livetweetingabortion hashtag on Twitter during the day this week and see what’s going on. Usually there’s at least one conservative, antiabortion person talking smack with about ten different pro-choice Twitter users. For maximum entertainment, tune in when @PleterPlan is on. And bring popcorn!


Okay, I got a little bit off track here. Where I was going is this: ┬áthe world NEEDS women of steel like Angie. This blog is going to be my way of exploring the ordinary women doing extraordinary things in the world, with a focus on using the internet to further causes and get people together. Also I’ll be writing about pretty much anything else that comes to mind. I promise I’ll leave the technical programming talk that is my day job at the door, however.

Finally, for your reading and listening pleasure, I present “Steel” by Charlotte Martin (link plays excerpt in a new window from iLike.com), along with lyrics.

The lost and insincere
They think I need to hear what’s in their empty eyes, eyes, eyes
We’re few and far between
We’ve hardly been serene
But we stand up to their lies, lies, lies
We are steel
We don’t feel anything at all

He took me in his arms
But then he squeezed too hard
He wouldn’t let me breathe, breathe, breathe

It’s been too many years
I’ve hurt too many times
To give up everything, thing, thing

I am steel
I don’t feel anything at all

The way I’ve been confused
The way that I’ve been used
And spit out on your dime
And still you lead me on
And still you take me down
And say it’s in my mind

Well I’ve seen hell and back
I’ve hidden in the dark with
No one there at all, all, all

I’ve scraped us back to life
I’ve laced up both my boots
So try and twist the knife, knife, knife

I am steel
I don’t feel anything at all
We are steel
We don’t feel anything at all
We don’t feel anything at all
Anything at all