Amelia Bonow is a 30-year-old grad student, a part-time bartender and most recently, an Internet phenomenon.
A few weeks ago, Bonow decided to go on Facebook and post about her choice to have an abortion, writing, “having an abortion made me happy in a totally unqualified way. Why shouldn’t I be happy that I wasn’t forced to become a mother? #ShoutYourAbortion”
“The fact that I had never spoken about my abortion publicly ... I sort of realized that perhaps I’ve internalized some of the stigma that ... keep women like me silent,” Bonow told ABC News' “Nightline.”
She said her motivation wasn’t political, that she shared her abortion experience with her 1,500 Facebook friends “on a whim.”
“I was like running out the door, and I needed to mop my kitchen floor,” she said. “I was like, no I’m not going to mop the floor. I’m just going to tell everyone that I had an abortion.”
Her revelation resonated. Bonow’s friend and blogger Lindy West tweeted a picture of the post and sent it out to her 60,000 Twitter followers, including the hashtag, #ShoutYourAbortion.
“Within a couple of hours there were women in and out of my social circle that were just saying ‘hey, I had an abortion too,’” Bonow said. “And I just realized I haven’t spoken about it publicly because so many people have made me feel like I should feel bad about it.”
The hashtag took off and by the end of the afternoon, a social media movement uniting generations of women had been born. Bonow said she received dozens of messages, including one from a 67-year-old grandmother who said she held her 3-and-a-half-year-old grandson for the first time without feeling guilty about an abortion she had had 20 years ago.
“The ripple effect that that had in her life to me, is like, I can’t believe that that came from one woman’s social media activity,” Bonow said, her eyes welling up.
Bonow has suddenly found herself on the front lines of the decades-old abortion rights debate, now increasingly waged at the grassroots level and on the Internet, with both sides using social media as their weapon of choice.
She has received supportive “shouts” from women of all generations as well as what she characterizes as vitriol. She wouldn’t go so far as to say she had received death threats, but said she has received message that made her feel “unsafe.”
“I am not a public figure. I am not an activist,” she said. “So I’m not used to ... having to know how to vet the validity of a threat.”
Bonow went into hiding for a few days after the Facebook post, but she’s not retreating. Fueled by her zeal to empower women and remove what she says is the stigma attached to abortion, Bonow is also partially motivated to keep the conversation going after the U.S. House of Representatives’ threat to defund Planned Parenthood following the release of undercover video purportedly catching executives selling fetal tissue.
Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, adamantly denied the claims during a recent congressional hearing. “The outrageous accusations leveled against Planned Parenthood based on heavily doctored videos are offensive and categorically untrue," she said.
The fiery showdown between Republicans and Democrats during this election season rages on. But Bonow said she's not willing to wait for the politicians to sort it out. “I don’t know if politics can really address stigma. I think that that’s what 'shout your abortion' can do and I think that that’s what we’ve seen it do little by little in the last two weeks and I’m really looking forward to seeing where the world takes it beyond the political rhetoric, citizens are taking matters into their own hands.”
One of the campaign’s most visible supporters is “The Good Wife” actress Martha Plimpton, a lifelong outspoken abortion rights activist. “Abortion is not some crazy, weird last resort. It is a normal part of women's medical lives. I think the #ShoutYourAbortion campaign is phenomenal. I love it,” she told “Nightline.”
The actress is the co-founder of the nonprofit reproductive rights group, “A Is For ...” -- which she said could mean a number of things.
“It can be ‘autonomy.’ It can be ‘abortion.’ It can be ‘absolute’ freedom,” she said. “We want women to feel empowered, to not feel stigmatized and not feel shamed and not feel isolated when they make the decisions that are right for them in regards to their bodies.”
Plimpton has also had two abortions herself, and points to the statistic that “one in three” women will have an abortion by age 45, which is based on a Guttmacher Institute study.
“I feel that my ability to access that kind of medical care made it possible for me to live out my dreams and do what I really wanted to do with my life,” she said. “I think being able to choose when or if you have a family is central to a person's ability to experience true equality as a citizen.”
Plimpton has thrown her support behind the #ShoutYourAbortion hashtag and released a tongue-in-cheek video in which she, abortion rights activists and other celebrities read some of the horrible Twitter responses they’ve received to the hashtag. The video trended on social media.
Abortion has been legal since the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision, but in the last few years, over 200 limitations on abortion access have been passed into law across dozens of states, a clear sign that the anti-abortion movement is going strong.
Kristan Hawkins, a grassroots organizer and the president of the Students for Life organization who has recruited thousands to the anti-abortion rights cause, said she is not impressed. “I think #ShoutYourAbortion is a flash in the pan," Hawkins told "Nightline." "I think it’s one of the many things we’re going to see rising up in the next few years as abortion activists become increasingly concerned with a pro-life America. Do I think it’s gonna have a lasting impact? That’s a no.”
But Bonow is hoping to prove her wrong. She has now put her graduate studies on hold to focus on turning the overnight Internet sensation into lasting cultural change.
“This isn’t like Roe v. Wade that can be overturned,” she said. “This is just a change in the way that people are talking about a medical procedure, and it’s something that I think people are clearly ready for.”