Emily Letts, an abortion counselor from Philadelphia, ignited an Internet firestorm earlier this week when she uploaded a video of her abortion to Vimeo. According to an article she penned for Cosmopolitan.com, Letts said that she chose to make the video of her surgical abortion publicly available because there wasn't one already available online. Women who came to the clinic were afraid of the procedure and didn’t know what to expect. So when she needed an abortion, she had someone bring a camera along. The three-minute video (which is completely suitable for work) shows her from the waist up as she hums and takes deep breaths throughout the procedure.
She was two or three weeks pregnant when the procedure occurred, long before even the country’s most prohibitive anti-choice laws would have granted the zygote legal personhood. After it’s over, Letts added a video blog she recorded a month later, where she says she doesn’t feel guilty or sad.
“I knew that what I was gonna do was right,” she said. “Because I knew that it was right for me.”
Unsurprisingly, the backlash began immediately. Here of the reactions from commenters on Cosmopolitan.com:
“Disgusting and shameful.”
“Sick, twisted f***. I hope you're haunted for the rest of your life.”
I don’t need to rehash what conservatives had to say about it. Gawker pretty much has that covered. Suffice it to say they’re not big fans.
The outrage from the pro-life crowd was expected. What's truly surprising is the number of people who came out of the woodwork to say they’re pro-choice but, but, BUT they don’t like that this video exists:
“I'm not keen on this at all. Abortion should be seen as necessary, not a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card.” - Vin
“Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-choice by any means, and am actually fairly liberal with regard to abortion rights (in terms of how late and why I might allow abortions to be performed). But honestly: What's the redeeming value of the video?” - s3rp3nts
“I am conflicted by this. I am by no means a right-wing conservative. As a matter of fact, I lean quite positively to the left, however I can't very well sympathize with people that get pregnant out of carelessness and deal with it this way. …
I just wanted to let it be said that you don't necessarily need to be a conservative, self-centered, chauvinistic man in his mid-thirties to not be completely ok with this.” - TomcatMVD
In other words, plenty of other people support a woman’s right to choose… as long as she is properly contrite about the whole thing.
That’s not what pro-choice is. Pro-choice means supporting choice under every circumstance, not under the ones you personally deem acceptable. Pro-choice means supporting real education about what an abortion entails, which is exactly what Letts did. Pro-choice does not mean expecting women who’ve had abortions to prostrate themselves and feel publicly conflicted about their choice.
The pro-life crowd has introduced laws that mandate ultrasounds, descriptions of those ultrasounds, counseling, and waiting periods for a person seeking an abortion. The justification for these laws is that women don’t understand what they’re getting themselves into and they need to be educated about what’s going to happen. The video “The Silent Scream,” a hoax that purportedly shows a fetus being aborted, is spread far and wide by pro-life sites. Some Catholic schools force students to watch it during their version of “sex ed.”
Letts performed a public service by helping people educate themselves about the actual reality of abortion, and those same people who think “The Silent Scream” should be mandatory viewing in schools are upset about it. The reason is obvious: she doesn’t align with their narrative of abortion as something scary, violent, unsafe, and guilt-inducing. It seems like alleged pro-choicers are upset for a similar reason: Letts isn’t adequately ashamed of what she did.
Emily Letts felt good about ending her pregnancy, and she has every right to. She’s not alone: The most reported feeling women have after getting an abortion is relief. One in three women in America will have an abortion in their lifetime and plenty of them will feel bad about it, not because they think they made the wrong choice, but because abortion is so stigmatized in America. America seems perfectly content to let our tax dollars fund “crisis pregnancy centers,” which pose as abortion clinics and trick and terrorize patients out of ending their pregnancies, but one woman tries to put the truth out there and the public is ready to tar and feather her.
"I know there are women who feel great remorse," Letts wrote. "I have seen the tears. Grieving is an important part of a woman’s process, but what I really wanted to address in my video is guilt."
"Our society breeds this guilt. We inhale it from all directions. Even women who come to the clinic completely solid in their decision to have an abortion say they feel guilty for not feeling guilty. Even though they know 110 percent that this is the best decision for them, they pressure themselves to feel bad about it."
If you say you’re pro-choice and have a problem with a young woman being at peace with her decision to have an abortion, you are perpetuating that guilt and stigma. You’re cool with the concept of people with uteruses having bodily autonomy, but not with them feeling positive about making a choice you don’t agree with. That attitude contributes to the toxic way women have to live in America, and it’s far more reprehensible than filming a doctor’s appointment.