In March, Emily Letts posted a video of her abortion online. Last week, Cosmopolitan magazine ran a story about Emily and her video. Since then, the video has gone viral and Emily has received lots of attention, both positive and negative.
I was surprised when I watched Emily’s video, even though I’ve been doing family planning work for over ten years. I guess some part of me had internalized anti-choice messages. My response to Emily’s video was, “Wow, really? That’s it?”
The whole procedure took just a few minutes and didn’t seem that different from other gynecological procedures I’ve experienced. I wondered whether Emily’s abortion was unusual. To find out more, I discussed the video with Kate Gawler, LPN who serves as the Director of Abortion Care Services at Maine Family Planning.
N: Kate, what did you think when you watched Emily’s abortion video? Was it accurate?
K: My first reaction was gratitude that she shared her experience. What I saw in the video was entirely representative of what an abortion in early pregnancy is like. From a medical point of view it is a straightforward medical procedure.
N: I was surprised at how short the actual procedure was. Also, Emily doesn’t seem to be in much pain.
K: Yes, that’s another thing the video portrays well. Not every procedure is that short but abortion typically is a quick procedure. When I explain the procedure to our patients, I tell them that it takes me longer to tell them about it than the time it takes for the actual abortion procedure.
The perception of pain varies widely, and Emily’s experience seems to fall on the “not too painful” end of the normal spectrum. The most common thing we hear after an abortion procedure is, “That wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be.”
N: What about Emily’s emotional and mental state? She seems pretty sure of herself and is clearly relieved after the procedure.
K: Emily’s reaction of relief is one I’ve seen many times. Although abortion is often portrayed as heart-wrenching and agonizing, in reality, women’s reactions range from A to Z. For many women, although it’s a difficult decision, it’s a pretty straightforward one. A key factor in healthy coping for a woman who’s had an abortion is having someone in her life who truly cares about her and is supportive of her in a compassionate and non-judgmental way.
N: It’s a shame that abortion foes have spread so many lies about what abortion is actually like. Do you think Emily’s video will help to change the common understanding of abortion?
K: I certainly hope it will help. I remember the 50’s and early 60’s, when abortion wasn’t talked about because it was illegal, unsafe, and frightening. I came of age in the 60’s and 70’s around the time of Roe v. Wade. One of the reasons that decision happened is because women told their stories.
In the last twenty years, abortion stories have been completely driven into silence again as a result of the shaming that’s been done. And that’s a big part of why access is being restricted.
N: Some people have protested that the video doesn’t take the baby into account. How do you respond to that?
K: I’ve never met a woman who was unaware that ending her pregnancy with an abortion meant she would not be growing that embryo (or, after 10 weeks, that fetus) into a baby. Women know, and understand precisely, the responsibility that comes with having a uterus.
N: What do you think of Emily’s decision to share her abortion story?
K: I think it was a very generous thing to do. Clearly, she was only trying to show what her experience was.
One point she was trying to make is that abortion is a common part of a woman’s reproductive life. One in three women in the United States will have an abortion in her lifetime. The people who want to stop women from having access to safe abortions, should start looking around them. They may see their mothers, their daughters, their sisters, their friends.
Emily is doing her part to break the silence and reduce the stigma.