Women Are Putting Their Abortions on TikTok—but Is It Real?
Anti-choice activists are up in arms about the videos.
The woman in the 10-second TikTok sports the Gen-Z uniform: matching purple tie-dye shorts and a crop top, chunky white sneakers, bunched up crew socks. Over the infectious sounds of the song “Photo ID,” she vamps for a selfie, then turns the camera to pan the length of the doctor’s office in which she’s sitting. It ends with a shot of her in the exam-room chair, kicking out her legs and giggling.
“It’s a great day to have an abortion,” the caption reads.
The video is a stark and unapologetic depiction of abortion—the kind movement activists have been attempting to push into the mainstream for years, and that abortion opponents have deemed “sick and depraved.” It is playful, transgressive, an instant hit.
It’s also completely fake.
“I just started posting videos of me at random doctor’s appointments and saying ‘I’m getting an abortion,’” the creator of the video, a 21-year-old college student who goes by the handle @abortionqweenn, told The Daily Beast. “I was at urgent care.”
TikTok, the default clubhouse of Gen Z, is also a bellwether of adolescent activism. This summer, as the Black Lives Matter movement surged, users uploaded videos on victims of police brutality and footage from racial justice protests. (According to one analysis, TikTok users were twice as likely as non-users to have recently attended a Black Lives Matter demonstration.) In June, TikTokers helped tank attendance to a Trump rally by buying up tickets they had no intention of using.
And last February, a video of a young woman getting an abortion brought the existence of pro-choice TikTok to the forefront. The clip, which appears to have been shot and uploaded by her friend, starts with a positive pregnancy test, then cuts to the outside of a Planned Parenthood, then the inside of an exam room. It’s set to Bruno Mars’ “It Will Rain” and features a shot of the woman fist-pumping and laughing. By the time the creator deleted the video, it had been seen thousands of times, and sparked a fierce conservative backlash.
“When society celebrates abortion, should we be surprised to see this kind of cruelty,” tweeted Lila Rose, president of the anti-abortion group Live Action. “What happened to ‘abortions should be safe, legal, and rare’?” added Turning Point USA Founder Charlie Kirk. “Now they’re celebrated and streamed on social media.”
The account that posted the video was ultimately deleted, but the genre proliferated. Just last week, Autumn Lindsey, a spokesperson for Students for Life, uploaded a video decrying the “trend” of young people posting their abortions on TikTok. “This is disgusting and heartbreaking and should not be a trend on the internet,” she said in an Instagram Live video. “Videos like this prove the pro-abortion side celebrates abortion.”
“Absolutely unreal!” one commenter wrote. “THANK YOU FOR SPEAKING OUT!”
In fact, many of the videos may be literally “unreal.” The Daily Beast found more than a dozen clips of people claiming to be at abortion appointments, which ranged from obvious jokes—a woman swinging her feet off the exam table beside the words “when he texts you to have a good abortion”—to straightforward shots of an exam room with the hashtag “abortioncheck.” In most of them, the women are smiling, dancing, and lip-syncing to whatever song happens to be trending—essentially, doing what everyone else on TikTok does.
The Daily Beast attempted to contact all of the video creators. Only one, @abortionqweenn, responded. The student and her girlfriend, who goes by the handle @abortioncounselor, both work in reproductive rights, and both make content almost exclusively about abortion and contraception. (They actually met on TikTok and recently moved in together.)
At one point, @abortionqweenn said, she realized that filming her doctor’s appointments and passing them off as abortions was a recipe for an instant hit.
“I think a lot of my followers know that I’m not getting like 50 abortions a month,” she said. “But people will just see that and I guess like normalize it. People will also get very angry about it. But it always goes viral.”
The strategy seems to have worked. The pair have garnered a combined 165,000 followers and more than 20 million views, despite having their accounts blocked repeatedly by TikTok moderators. (TikTok says it does not have a policy prohibiting discussion of abortion. After The Daily Beast reached out, the women’s previously blocked accounts were restored.)
Many of their videos contain medical advice about the abortion procedure or information on how to get one. Others are meant to be irreverently humorous: One of @abortioncounselor’s first videos shows her dancing to the Megan Thee Stallion song “Thotiana,” under the text “my fetus dancing right before it was aborted.” Another features a drive-thru and the words “in-n-out after an abortion hits different.”
To those used to the stoicism of the mainstream abortion debate, the videos’ playfulness can be surprising. Even some abortion rights advocates take issue with some of the pair’s tactics. But to Amelia Bonow, the founder of Shout Your Abortion, the videos are the latest step in normalizing a procedure that has historically been stigmatized and kept quiet.
Bonow actually hired @abortioncounselor as an artist-in-residence for her organization, which publishes and publicizes abortion stories, because she felt they needed a larger presence on TikTok.
“The idea that abortion is always a serious and sad thing is antiquated, not reflective of reality, and it definitely hasn’t done our side any favors,” she told The Daily Beast in an email. Abortion TikTok, she said, “is a nail in the coffin of the old way of doing things. We can talk about abortion however we want, it doesn't always have to be heavy. Sometimes it’s hilarious.”
Behind all that humor is a kernel of truth: Both @abortionqweenn and @abortioncounselor have had abortions within the last six years. When she had hers at age 18, @abortionqweenn said, she knew of only one other person who’d undergone the procedure. Reading and watching stories of other people’s abortions online brought her comfort, and inspired her to start making videos of her own.
“We get so many DMs every week from young people like, ‘I’m pregnant, I want an abortion, what do I do?’” she said. “Obviously I’m not able to respond to everyone but I just like, even through my videos, being someone that I didn’t have.”
“It’s not a matter of if it’s true or not, it’s that they’re being exposed to positive messaging surrounding abortion,” her girlfriend added. Especially for those living in conservative households, she said, “this might be the first time they’re seeing something positive about abortion, and just having that seed planted can really change people's lives.”
The two are not the only abortion provocateurs on TikTok. In Charlotte, North Carolina, a group of Gen-Z “clinic defenders” has gone viral many times over for videos of them taunting anti-abortion protesters outside a local clinic. In one, they blast Whitney Houston out of a parked car and ask a protester to come dance with them. In another, a clinic defender reads the lyrics to “WAP” to drown out a man reading the Bible. The latter has more than a million views.
While popular, the tactics are not without controversy: In August, on the same day the WAP video was posted, four of the organization’s board members resigned, citing “hard and emotional growing pains.” Under the announcement on Facebook, one commenter wrote: “Just shocked at the direction I see this organization going on the social media platforms. If this is the way the clinic is heading I have lost so much respect.”
Videos from inside abortion clinics are controversial too, even within the movement space. If clinics are identifiable in the videos, providers say, it can put them at physical risk. And videos shot in clinic waiting rooms can pose a privacy threat to other patients. Even the fake videos, like @abortionqweenn’s, have the risk of spreading misinformation, according to Mona Walia, the owner of All Women’s Health Clinic in Tacoma, Washington. Maybe someone will recognize that urgent care and assume it provides abortions, she said, or maybe they will compare that fictional experience to their own.
“As providers we want to normalize abortion,” she said. “We just need to find a way to do that so that it's out there, but that information is accurate."
Planned Parenthood, the largest single provider of abortions in the U.S., was supportive of the clinic videos, saying in a statement that there should be “no expectation of silence or shame” about the procedure.
“Many organizations and individuals have worked for years to end stigma around abortion, and we’re proud to work alongside them,” senior communications director Erica Sackin said in a statement. “Eliminating abortion stigma and its impact on patients, staff, and policies is an important culture shift that can’t happen quickly enough.”
For @abortioncounselor, the critiques of her work—whether they come from well-meaning advocates or abortion rights opponents—are beside the point.
“I didn’t join TikTok to make videos for people who already support abortion,” she said. “I made them for people struggling with their decision. And I also made it to educate young people on their rights and options.”
She added: “There’s just so many things that have changed as as result of our videos that a pro-choice person not liking it does really not faze me, because again, our videos just aren't for them.”
And for everyone saying abortion shouldn’t be a laughing matter, the joke may be on them. The original viral video, in which the teenager goes to Planned Parenthood for an abortion, appears not to be real, either. According to ScreenRant, the creator posted a second video—also since deleted—claiming her friend wasn’t getting an abortion at all, but simply going for an ultrasound.