Emily Letts’ video of her own abortion is not what you might expect. Unlike the archetypal portrayal of the operation on television or in films there is no blood, no horrifying scream, no last minute change of heart and, thankfully, no knitting needle.
Instead, the three minute film shows the 25-year-old breathing deeply and humming her way through the five minute surgical abortion. The aim? To place centre stage a process often shrouded in mystery, and show women that there is such a thing as a positive abortion story; that it’s not all gore and guilt.
In an article for Cosmopolitan this week, Letts explains the reasoning behind the project. After falling pregnant and deciding to abort, she scoured the internet for videos of an abortion, discovering that no one had documented a surgical procedure that focused only on the woman’s experience. An abortion counsellor herself, she realised lots of women either don’t know what to expect from an abortion, or envisage an experience similar to fictional abortions, which tend to go catastrophically wrong for the women involved.
Unsurprisingly, Letts has been subjected to intense criticism since she posted the film on YouTube, with one commenter suggesting she be “incinerated to produce energy”, another expressing a wish that her “womb be barren for the rest of her life”, and others, more traditionally, branding her a “baby killer”. (Is this the reaction women should expect if they choose to undergo a legal, medical procedure in the twenty first century?)
The video may be perceived by some as sensationalist or an attempt to trivialise a contentious issue, however the reaction to the film highlights more than ever the need for open and honest discussion about abortion. If one woman sharing her story incites the vitriol quoted above, is it any wonder many others choose to keep quiet about their experiences, bullied into silence by trolls who think they know best.
The stigma attached to those who choose a safe, medical procedure over bringing an unwanted child into the world is substantial and fed mainly by the uncomfortable silence that surrounds abortion, and the guilt women who have gone through the procedure feel obliged to partake in. Some women live with the guilt forever, others don’t feel guilty at all, but no woman should be hounded or abused for having an abortion, bullied into incubating a foetus they did not plan, or forced to bear the heavy burden of shame for the rest of their lives.
In filming and sharing her experience with the world, Letts has not only dragged from their caves the dank and sordid unmentionables who still think a woman a murderer for choosing her own life over a cluster of cells, she has shown that an abortion can be a positive experience; reassuring thousands of women who don’t feel guilty about a choice they were perfectly within their rights to make.