Emily Letts is a 25-year-old actress and patient advocate at Cherry Hills Women’s Clinic in New Jersey who counsels women about abortion. After discovering that she was pregnant, and not ready to become a mother, she decided to film her own abortion to show people that there can be a “positive abortion story.” As an abortion counselor who was often asked if she had ever been pregnant or had any children, she saw an unwanted pregnancy as an opportunity to relate to patients she spoke with, and decided to film her procedure and post it on YouTube hoping to increase understanding about the abortive process.
As this is a highly personal and sensitive topic many are quick to question the ethics behind capturing a procedure that is so controversial and intimate in its nature and sharing it with the public. However, the misconceptions, lies, and stigmas behind abortions and the women who get them need to be dispelled somehow. A woman has a right to do what she wants with her own body, as made clear in Roe vs. Wade, and whether people believe abortion is ethical or unethical is beside the point: people will continue to get them either way.
Unwanted pregnancy happens even to those who practice protected sex, and unless someone is completely celibate, sexual intercourse can not be 100 percent protected from pregnancy. Although Letts admitted she was not using birth control (even admitting to the irony of being a sex educator but engaging in unprotected sex) she decided that after this experience she would have the doctor insert an intrauterine device (IUD) as a form of birth control.
An excerpt from Emily Letts’ essay on why she filmed her own “positive abortion story” featured in Cosmopolitan states, “women come into the clinic all the time terrified that they are going to be cut open, convinced that they won’t be able to have kids after the abortion. The misinformation is amazing, but think about it: They are still willing to sacrifice these things because they know that they can’t carry the child at this moment.” Although Letts’ video captures a seemingly brief and easy abortion, this is not the norm for many women, especially those who have abortions that are less “positive.” Although putting her story out there is completely her prerogative, one cannot help but wonder if misinformation is being cleared up with more misinformation.
The smile she maintained throughout the video gave the impression that getting an abortion can be a “positive” experience. Although in a small clip of her film she shows that strength through stints of discomfort, for the most part the procedure appears to be pretty effortless, despite that for many women abortion is far from easy. Although her personal procedure may help to give women more perspective on the range of experiences those who undergo abortions can have, including some that can be positive, to make a film with the purpose of countering misinformation about abortion through a clip of a personal “positive” experience may not be as informative as one thinks.
This is because misinformation cannot be countered with more misinformation. The video she created, although courageous and radical, does not really provide “information” on abortion, but more or less shares a specific type of experience that is possible given Letts’ own position in life, including her personal beliefs, biases, experiences, and knowledge. The average woman going to get an abortion may find the ease of the procedure she filmed misleading, as plenty of women endure pain, complications, and a lack of support that is instrumental to the guilt, shame, and sadness many experience after making such a decision. There were no questions asked in Letts’ film, no pointing out common misconceptions, and the deliberation most women have whether or not to get an abortion in the first place was not really explored because Letts knew right away what she wanted. There was also very little conversation about how it had affected her afterward, except for the fact that she did not feel guilty.
Although Letts addresses the issue of guilt by saying that she does not feel guilty for doing what she believes is best and that other women should not feel guilty either, that does not necessarily do anything to help the women who do suffer from these post-abortion feelings of regret, shame, and guilt. Whether a woman should or should not feel these emotions is irrelevant because many woman do feel emotionally perplexed, despite the fact that they too believe they are doing what is best for them.
If the goal is to counter misinformation, how does one create conversations that incorporate a “positive abortion story” along with acknowledging the complex emotional, social, and physical experience abortion can also be? And how does one do it in a way that not only embraces a woman’s right to make her own decisions, but also provides support, understanding, and a sense of community while making those decisions, especially when some abortion stories are not so “positive.” Emily Letts’ video is a platform for stimulating more conversation about abortion. By filming her experience Letts took abortion out of the realm of secretive and shameful and normalized it, making the procedure something that any Internet user can access. After all, abortion has become a pretty normal experience, as one in three women in America undergo one in their lifetime.
Another aspect worth expanding on given this platform is the role of men and the experiences that they have regarding abortion. Although Letts’ partner was not included in her decision to abort, for many men the experience of having a partner undergo an abortion is something they too grieve for and grapple with, just as woman do. If couples are willing to say “we are pregnant,” then they should also be willing to say “we got an abortion.” It is not purely a woman’s experience and therefore men need to be able to own this as a part of their reproductive story as well.
Emily Letts’ film of her own “positive abortion story” is a step forward in that it challenges the status quo that says abortions have to be a secret, shameful, and someone has to be guilty if they are a part of one. However, in creating this platform to talk about these experiences in a candid, open, and honest way, they also do not all have to be “positive” and there are plenty that are worth sharing that are not. Talking about the experience in terms of “positive” and “negative” as Emily Letts has done is not moving the conversation forward: it is only moving it another direction. The truth is that there is a range of experiences and emotions people can have in regard to abortion and all are equally important, relevant, and worth acknowledging.
Opinion by Amiya Moretta