By Sonia Elks
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Celebrities revealed their abortion stories and ordinary Americans stood up to be counted as a backlash against tough new U.S. abortion laws gathered pace on Thursday and a social media campaign went viral.
The online campaign to protect access to abortion followed moves by Alabama and other U.S. states to heavily restrict a woman’s right to end her pregnancy, a perennial battleground in U.S. politics and touchstone of modern feminism.
Galvanised by the threat, movie stars divulged their own painful stories, warning against any return to backstreet abortions or men legislating over women’s bodies.
On social media, hundreds of ordinary Americans answered a call by talk show host Busy Philipps to share stories and “end the shame”. Philipps launched the hashtag #youknowme aimed at showing how common it is for women to end their pregnancies.
“1 in 4 women have had an abortion. Many people think they don’t know someone who has, but #youknowme,” the 39-year-old wrote in a post on Twitter.
One day after its launch, nearly 50,000 people had liked or shared the post and almost 2,000 users had posted responses, including deeply personal accounts of their own abortions.
A recent spate of anti-abortion laws has thrust the emotional debate back to the very forefront of national politics in the run-up to the 2020 U.S. presidential elections.
Alabama’s governor on Wednesday signed a bill aiming to ban abortions in almost all cases, including rape and incest, with doctors who perform the procedure facing up to 99 years in jail.
Legislation to restrict abortion rights has been introduced this year in 16 U.S. states as conservatives attempt to strike down a landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that established a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.
Fears that Roe v Wade – a hard-won and hallowed right for many U.S. women – was under threat has galvanised support from Congress to Hollywood.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders posted a video of a woman whose mother died from an illegal, self-induced abortion in 1944.
“In limiting access to abortion, all we are doing is eliminating safe and monitored abortions,” he wrote.
“Ultimately, this is about women’s power,” said Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a Twitter post.
“It’s a brutal form of oppression to seize control of the 1 essential thing a person should command: their own body.”
Singer Lady Gaga said Alabama’s law was “an outrage” and “heinous” in her post on Twitter.
“So there’s a higher penalty for doctors who perform these operations than for most rapists?,” she added.
Actor Milla Jovovich divulged details of her own traumatic emergency abortion after she went into pre-term labour, saying this underlined how vulnerable women could be.
“It was one of the most horrific experiences I have ever gone through,” she wrote in a post on Instagram.
“I was alone and helpless. When I think about the fact that women might have to face abortions in even worse conditions than I did because of new laws, my stomach turns.”
Actor and politician Cynthia Nixon said her mother underwent a “harrowing” backstreet abortion before the procedure was made legal, joining thousands who tweeted under #youknowme.
“In 2010, my wife had a legal abortion after we found out her pregnancy was not viable,” she also wrote in the post.
“We cannot and will not go back.”
British actor and presenter Jameela Jamil said that having an abortion in her youth was the “best decision I have ever made” and predicted that Alabama’s law would lead to “chaos”.
“Hope the people of Alabama who want the abortion ban are up for donating their money and space to the MEGA influx of kids in need of care, coming your way,” she wrote.
(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)