‘I Had a Sense of Relief’: Livestreaming Our Abortion Stories

In a six-hour long livestream, women from all walks of life shared their abortion experiences.

01.20.16 5:01 AM ET

What do a Christian minister, a Latina artist, a mother of three, and the co-creator of The Daily Show all have in common? Like nearly 3 in 10 American women, they all had an abortion by age 45.

For six hours yesterday, dozens of women shared personal abortion experiences on a livestream hosted by the 1 in 3 Campaign, a project of the nonprofit organization Advocates for Youth.

“Despite the fact that abortion is very common, we rarely talk about our decision to end a pregnancy,” said Advocates for Youth director of youth organizing and mobilization Julia Reticker-Flynn, at the start of the online event.

The 1 in 3 Campaign Abortion Speakout, now in its second year, comes on the heels of Amelia Bonow’s #ShoutYourAbortion campaign, which encouraged women to respond to last year’s legislative action against Planned Parenthood with personal narratives.

Now, as the Supreme Court prepares to hear the most significant abortion case since 1992—and to decide whether or not most abortion clinics in Texas remain open—abortion-rights advocates are doubling down on a new approach: going public with experiences that are rarely shared and often shrouded in stigma.

“Running away from abortion and not talking about abortion and acting like there’s something wrong with abortion does a disservice to everyone who’s had one and does a disservice to those who provide them,” Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead told The Daily Beast about her participation in this year’s Speakout. “And I, for one, refuse to participate in conversation and dialogue and language and sound bites and rhetoric that have been set up and designed to take control out of the hands of people who need it.”

Winstead, a comedian and founder of the outspoken advocacy group Lady Parts Justice, appeared on the Speakout on Tuesday afternoon to talk about her own experience getting an abortion at age 16 after becoming pregnant the first time she ever had sex.

“I was a person who was doing what many people do: exploring my own sexuality without the information that I needed to not get pregnant,” she said via Skype, sitting in front of a life-size cutout of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

As an uninformed teenager, Winstead was fooled by advertising into visiting a crisis pregnancy center rather than an abortion clinic. But eventually, she found her way to Planned Parenthood and terminated the pregnancy.

In addition to Winstead, the Speakout played host to a gallery of notable abortion-rights advocates, including Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Cecile Richards, former Texas state senator Wendy Davis, and veteran abortion provider Dr. Willie Parker. But the most captivating voices to come out of the Speakout were the other callers—and Skypers—who phoned in to share their personal abortion stories.

Favianna Rodriguez, a Latina artist and the daughter of immigrants, said that after she told her lover she was pregnant, he was “on a plane to Chicago” in a matter of days, leaving her to deal with the pregnancy alone.

“I had my abortion and didn’t have regrets at all,” she said on the livestream. “In fact, I had a sense of relief.”

In 2012, Rodriguez decided to go public with her abortion experience in the midst of her artistic success, describing it as a “coming out” of sorts.

“I realized that silence was costing us political power,” she explained.

Like Rodriguez, many callers emphasized that they have no qualms about their decision. According to a study in PLOS ONE from researchers at UC San Francisco, 95 percent of women who have had an abortion do not regret it.

“I don’t regret my abortion. I’m happy about it,” said writer and activist Renee Bracey Sherman.  “It was the best decision of my life. And 10 years later, I would do it again.”

“I never felt like a monster and I never once regretted it,” one anonymous caller said.

But apart from that single point of commonality, the stories covered a wide range of situations, circumstances, and ages. A caller named Mellie said that, when she was 21, she woke up to find her boyfriend having unprotected sex with her in her sleep without her consent. A few days later, she felt sick and realized what must have happened.

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“I knew without hesitation that I had to get the abortion,” she said.

According to a 1996 study, 50 percent of women who become pregnant as a result of rape make the same choice as Mellie.

Some callers, like Dana, were already mothers when they chose to get abortion. Sixty percent of American women who have an abortion already have at least one child, and over half of those women have two or more kids. Seven and a half months into Dana’s second pregnancy, an MRI revealed severe fetal brain anomalies. She and her husband had to save money and fly to Colorado to terminate the pregnancy. Today, they have a family of three children.

“We have a solid family foundation that would not exist had we been forced to make a choice that we did not want to do,” she told the livestream.

Elizabeth, now a Christian minister, became pregnant while living with a convent of Catholic nuns in Guatemala and dating a local man. She called abortion “one of the most mature things I’ve ever done,” saying that it allowed her to become a minister. Over 7 in 10 American women who have an abortion report a religious affiliation and one quarter attend services monthly, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

One of the oldest callers, Anne Hopkins, described her experience seeking an abortion in 1965, during a pre-Roe v. Wade era when dangerous abortions were far more common. Hopkins and her boyfriend drove to a bar in Tijuana with $2,200 in cash, adjusted for inflation. Once at the bar, she was taken to a secret location but her boyfriend was told to stay put during the procedure.

“There I am, alone in Mexico, with two strange men and no one who cares about me knows where I am,” she told the young livestream hosts.

When it was done, she was taken back to her boyfriend at the bar. Luckily, she had no complications from the unsanctioned medical procedure.

Other callers preferred to remain completely anonymous. “I’m probably one of those women you could consider [as being] in the shadows here,” one unidentified caller said in a Texan drawl.

She chose to have an abortion at age 16 in Houston and, like Winstead, visited a crisis pregnancy center before terminating her pregnancy. Now, she has a 10-year-old daughter and a college degree. Her voice faltering, she said that she has to remain anonymous even 20 years later to protect her family’s reputation.

Winstead told The Daily Beast that, until all women who have had abortions can feel comfortable coming forward without repercussions, those in positions like hers should open up if they are able.

“Until that day comes,” she said, “those of us who feel like we have the strength, the privilege, to tell our stories … give [abortion] a context that makes sense, that normalizes it, [and] that takes the shame away.”