Former Planned Parenthood ED calls for women’s silence around abortion

When Angie Jackson live tweeted her abortion she was speaking about what women have been told must remain private, secret, and yes, shameful. I support women telling their own stories without judgment or stigma. I want a culture where women can talk comfortably about their abortions, even if it is still a difficult choice for some, where women’s choices aren’t judged. Speaking openly about abortion helps to create this world.
In a piece published yesterday at Salon, former Executive Director of Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island Mary Ann Sorrentino argues Jackson’s choice and the procedure she underwent shouldn’t be talked about in public. Sorrentino attempts to make a generational argument, claiming pre-Roe feminists understand how bad illegal abortion was and how hard they fought for it, and know their aim was to gain a private right. The author spins the legal right to privacy argument into a condemnation of uppity women who give voice to their own abortion experiences – this private procedure shouldn’t be talked about so flagrantly.
Sorrentino’s argument has nothing to do with generational divisions. It’s an argument that women shouldn’t speak their truth in public.
Sorrentino suggests Jackson is irresponsible for not choosing sterilization. Not wanting to carry another pregnancy to term does not equal wanting or being able to have a tubal ligation. But I get the sense Sorrentino has limits on what she considers morally acceptable, and tying your tubes when you decide not to have more kids but still want to have cis hetero sex is apparently the responsible choice.
Sorrentino says Jackson caused the rest of the universe “anguish” and calls her public tweets an “abuse of reproductive rights” – as if abortion is always a severely painful decision that must be kept secret, or you’re doing it wrong. She accuses Jackson of having “bad judgment.” Sorrentino makes sure to point out Jackson has the right to speak publicly about her abortion, but it’s just not the proper thing to do.
Sorrentino’s piece reads like she’s telling Jackson to be ladylike, to be a “good girl.” There are certain things a woman just shouldn’t speak about in public. This isn’t the feminism of a previous generation – it’s an argument that the divides between public and private should be maintained, with women’s experiences kept in the private sphere. It’s an argument for silence, for stigma, and for an appropriate way of being a lady.
This goes against the approach to destigmatizing abortion that I learned from pre-Roe organizers. The Redstockings Abortion Speakout in 1969 began a traditional of women telling their abortion stories publicly to humanize the procedure, to bring it into the public sphere, and to remove shame. These women didn’t listen when they were told their stories should be kept private. Jackson used new technology to share the experience as it was happening, a new twist on an old consciousness raising technique.
Jackson’s live tweeting of her abortion actually has its roots in pre-Roe work for abortion access. Sorrentino’s argument has its roots in anti-feminist understandings of the appropriate place for women’s decisions and experiences – out of sight.
To hear Angie Jackson’s reasons for sharing her abortion experience in her own words check out this CNN interview:

Full transcript here.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • Brittany-Ann

    She speaks about tubal ligation as if it’s such an easy procedure to get. As former ED director, she should know that it is not. I can’t tell you how many stories I read on the Childfree community at Livejournal, of women seeking TL, and getting turned away by paternalistic doctors, “just in case.”

  • pixiewolf

    So, in the article, Sorrentino states that if Jackson doesn’t want to have and more children, “one has to wonder why she didn’t just have a tubal ligation”.
    Um, maybe because tubal ligation is major surgery?
    Obviously, tubal ligation is a great option for some women, but it’s major surgery. I question the word “just” followed by “have a tubal ligation,” as though this is some minor procedure. Just get your tubes tied! Easy-peasy.
    Not to mention, it’s really no one’s business what anyone does (or doesn’t do) with their tubes.

  • TabloidScully

    It’s disappointing that a woman who once held such a position at the crux of feminine empowerment is now choosing to exercise a very patriarchal construct over Angie Jackson. It’s essentially saying, “Yo, woman, STFU” which we’ve been hearing since our ancestors figured out that they could talk and decided women were weaker.
    The only part of Sorrentino’s argument I find valid is that it is very much a generational divide. The history of abortion itself represents a greater schism in the march for equality. Once, abortion was used by fathers and husbands to control the reproductive options for their wives, daughters and sisters. Now, abortion is a cornerstone of women’s rights.
    That being said, Sorrentino completely misrepresents the ultimate gain of what the Feminists of her generation achieved–the right for women to CHOOSE whether their abortions became a matter of private or public consumption. I’d argue that in Jackson opting to Tweet her abortion, she most definitely took full advantage of what the previous generation fought so dearly for: her right to choose not only to abort her fetus, but to tell the world about it.

  • EAMD

    Great piece. I read Sorrentino’s late last night and dismissed the disgust I felt as just me being too tired to really understand what she was saying.
    Thanks.

  • damigiana

    I completely and totally agree.
    A tubal ligation is essentially irreversible, and while she doesn’t want another child now, she has every right to keep her options open if she so desires. Also, I personally am sure I will never want more children, but I still will not have a tubal ligation – I use a different contraceptive, and know that if it fails I will need an abortion. It’s my… what was the keyword again… choice.
    Sorrentino also hints that Jackson might have organized the whole thing, including getting pregnant on purpose, just to promote a book. I find this suggestion absolutely disgusting, and am upset that it comes not from the pen of an ultra-conservative but of a supposed supporter of women’s rights and freedoms.

  • supremepizza

    “The author spins the legal right to privacy argument into a condemnation of uppity women who give voice to their own abortion experiences… Sorrentino’s argument has nothing to do with generational divisions.”
    Oh c’mon are we really going to treat this woman who’s given so much like she’s the enemy? We don’t flame George Bush like this, ouch!
    I have very mixed feelings about Jackson live Tweeting her abortion. On the one hand I appreciate that she’s trying to ‘legitimize’ abortion (whether or not this is an effective strategy is another question altogether)…On the other hand there actually are 2 huge generational dynamics here. The reason for publicizing these stories pre-Roe was to humanize the anguish & suffering of women undergoing illegal abortions. The goal was legalization. Second, 30-somethings and olders are mystified by younger people’s inclination to publicize all manner of heretofore private matters.
    This must be as mystifying to Sorrentino as Kim Kardashian publicizing a sex tape with Ray-J.

  • Phenicks

    OK so this: “Sorrentino suggests Jackson is irresponsible for not choosing sterilization.”
    and this:
    “Not wanting to carry another pregnancy to term does not equal wanting… to have a tubal ligation.”
    Personally, it makes no sense to maintain your fertility when you don’t want to be fertile. The point of fertility is to reproduce, if you no longer wish to reproduce you no longer have a need, and from a practical standpoint, desire to be fertile. Fertility for a person who wishes not to have children can be a curse, fertility can and has millions of times over created unwanted pregnancies that lead to unplanned and sometimes biological parentless children.
    HOWEVER this:
    “Not wanting to carry another pregnancy to term does not equal…. being able to have a tubal ligation.”
    is oh so true. I wanted a tubal ligation and my supposedly pro-choice og/gyn told me she refuses to tie my tubes because of my age ALTHOUGH I’m having a c-section, although for medical reasons I was pretty much advised by HER no less- to get an abortion, although I already have a son and for medical reasons we are actually scheduling the c-section for number 2!
    I can’t find the eloquence to express just how much it pisses me the fuck off that if I wanted an abortion she’d give me one with FULL support but she absolutely refuses to tie my fucking tubes.
    But I get the sense Sorrentino has limits on what she considers morally acceptable, and tying your tubes when you decide not to have more kids but still want to have cis hetero sex is apparently the responsible choice.

  • gypsy

    I don’t understand the big deal – I can watch whole tv shows about people loosing weight, raising octuplets and heck, even giving birth. If the content of her tweet/blog offends you THAT much, DON’T READ IT!! – I certainly skip past TLC while channel surfing (no desire to see people try and raise 19 kids… :p )
    It would all be less “dirty and shameful” if more people made it public. Like, when my mom was a teenager, periods were dirty – you “couldn’t talk about them.” And now tampon commercials, viagra commercials, and ads for that KY his and hers are normal. Because people TALKED about it. :p

  • gypsy

    Very true. Heck, getting an IUD is difficult enough…

  • Crosby

    “An abuse of reproductive rights” ?!? Give me a break.
    It’s really disheartening that an administrator at such a reputable organization is putting Jackson for exercising her own reproductive choices.

  • Phenicks

    That should have been “ob/gyn.” Oh and she also refused essure because its “permanent and you’re too young.”

  • Sloppy Sandwich

    If she got pregnant, got an abortion and blogged/tweeted it all intentionally, isn’t that her right? Shouldn’t she be free to do this in a culture “where women’s choices aren’t judged.”

  • adag87

    First of all, I think many people have demonized G-Dubs here many times. Not saying I disagree with that, but the comparison you make seems kind of silly. Just saying..
    Also, to get to the heart of the matter, abortion rights still need protecting. Roe being accomplished was a big, big deal, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over. In that respect, I think it is completely legitimate and appropriate for women to tell their own personal stories in any way they see fit. And really, even if abortion rights DIDN’T need protecting, I still think it’s totally legitimate.
    The bottom line here is where does any woman get off telling another woman not to talk about her own medical procedure?

  • allegra

    You know, I get the feeling that we prefer ladylike silence about all kinds of things pregnancy-related, especially miscarriage, and even the general discomforts and complications of pregnancy, so I don’t buy Sorrentino targeting Jackson for just talking about her abortion. Miscarriage is still viewed as some kind of weird unnatural failing on the part of the mother. It happens because you’re too skinny, too small, you wanted the baby too much, you didn’t eat right, etc. And, because pregnancy and healthy childbirth exist for us in the framework of the “natural,” when pregnancy doesn’t happen according to that normal process, it’s unnatural, and wrong. I think this stigma of the “unnatural” is partly what makes people so uncomfortable with abortion. I hardly *ever* see women writing (or even talking) about their miscarriges, or other complications with pregnancy, either, just like we never hear women talking about their abortions. The only prengnacies we want to hear about are the ones that result in a healthy baby.

  • DownAtTheDinghy

    jos i always love your posts.

  • beth

    I also think it’s interesting that many people question Angie’s decision not to have a tubal ligation, but NOT why her husband didn’t choose to have a vasectomy, which is a procedure that is actually easy.

  • prettyinpink

    I would venture to guess that tubals are as much major surgery as surgical abortion, or other uterine surgery, is. My aunt had one, and it really wasn’t that big of a deal, just a weekend of rest or so.

  • prettyinpink

    Since she does say that her life is seriously in danger in her pregnancy (NOT that it was simply unwanted, but that any pregnancy will threaten her health), so it is also my personal belief that not having a tubal was a irresponsible (given that they are covered under most gov’t sponsored insurance plans). These all are Sorrentino’s opinions, after all, and not her political platform, I believe. I’m allowed to respect a person’s choice even if I think she’s irresponsible right?
    That said, I think that tubals, etc should be more accessible for anyone that wants them. It’s quite ridiculous how people are so opposed to giving them. It’s a matter of personal freedom.

  • AndersH

    She really shouldn’t be, though. I mean, “the private is political” is hardly a new slogan, but it is still relevant. Suzanne Brogger’s Deliver Us From Love scandalized people 40 years ago.
    Of course, there is no doubt a generation gap, but it’s not in feminism, but rather in the much more common misunderstanding of the progress of technology and thus communication. I think some older people don’t understand that feminists haven’t necessarily changed (though hopefully we have, what with queer feminism and such), nor have girls and boys, men and women in general, but the modes of communication have, as they always do.

  • paperispatient

    Does anyone know if young men are refused vasectomies anywhere near as often as young women are turned down for permanent sterilization? I’m just curious. My partner plans on getting a vasectomy once he graduates college and finds a job, and his mother mentioned to us that it might be hard to find a doctor who is willing to do that procedure on a guy in his mid-twenties. I’m wondering if that paternalism extends to young men as well.

  • hfs

    I totally agree with Jos.
    ‘At its worst, it is self-serving, exhibitionist and selfish. At best, it has “bad judgment” written all over it.’
    Bullshit, Sorrentino. Stop trying to silence and shame the people who choose to exercise their rights over their own bodies.

  • pesematology

    It’s obvious from the article and from the comments accusing Angie of attention-whoring that the author didn’t read Angie’s blog or do any research at all. It’s a knee-jerk reaction.

  • uberhausfrau

    tell me about it. it’s as beyond the point and paternalistic as “dont wanna get pregnant? then keep your slutty legs closed!” yes, i guess women should stop having sex with, if the statistics are right, their long-time partners or husbands. stupid sluts, serves them right. /sarcasm.
    many forms of permanent/long term birth control are not appealing/possible for some women.
    when my husband and i were looking at our options i had many barriers to choices on my end. for health reasons, i didnt want to take anything hormonal for the next 20+ years – so no pill, which i have always had a horrible time remembering to take anyway, or plastic iud and i hated the nuvaring, breakthrough bleeding on top of a period. fuck. that!
    i have metal sensitivities so essure and the copper iud were not an option. two abortions and two births later, my vagina had done it’s part and wanted to collect its sesterce and ager in gaul – so i wasnt about to get a tubal ligation or that other procedure similar to essure where they just use lasers or something to cause scar tissue to block the fallopian tubes.
    husband got a vasectomy and it’s been great. i think all my crunchy natural childbirth mama friend’s have gone that route. it seems only fair.

  • uberhausfrau

    it’s been a while since it happened, but i had to literally sign off that i knew my husband was getting his vasectomy and he was 30 and had two kids. i wasnt there for the procedure or any of the pre-op visits so i dont know all the details of what was discussed or went on.

  • Chelsa

    Or it could be, as my ob/gyn told me, because tubal ligations have a slightly higher failure rate than IUDs.
    Why go get surgery when the non-surgery is generally more effective?

  • Melody

    Only having known one young man (19, in fact, at the time) to have a vasectomy, my anecdotal evidence is limited; however, from what he says, it wasn’t an issue at all. He was able to pay for it, stores some sperm in a bank in case he ever changes his mind, and that was that.

  • Sloppy Sandwich

    I have a problem with platitudes like “women shouldn’t be judged for their choices.” EVERYONE is judged for their choices. They SHOULD be. Choices are what you actually have control over, and they indicate character. What you shouldn’t be judged for are things you can’t control like what body you’re born into.
    It’s really unfair to accuse Sorrentino of trying to silence women’s truths just because she didn’t like the way one woman chose to express herself. Here’s a quote from another woman who feels she wasn’t allowed to speak her truth in public:
    “…they have done nothing but attack me, and try and silence me, and keep me from spreading that message, that free speech still exists.”
    Remember who said that? A little hint: she was judged for her choice to voice her exclusive support for what she called “opposite marriage.”

  • damigiana

    Sloppy Sandwich: I will believe that there are women choosing to get pregnant in order to get an abortion when I see one, and not when a troll suggests the theoretical possibility of their existence.

  • Sloppy Sandwich

    Are you calling me a troll, or Sorrentino?
    You might want to check this out:
    “For the past year, I performed repeated self-induced miscarriages…”
    —Aliza Shvarts, Yale Daily News, April 18, 2008
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yale_student_abortion_art_controversy
    Apparently she was never sure if she was pregnant.
    Is this something you’d judge wrong, if only done for artistic purposes? I’m not trolling, I’m really wondering about this.

  • southern students for choice

    Angie Jackson deserves respect and support for sharing her experience of having an abortion and sharing the reasons why she had it and the effect (or lack of an effect) that it’s having on her life.
    Listening to her story in the CNN piece (or reading this background on her from Slate) makes it a lot clearer though what her experiences and motives are than looking at the improvisational-looking YouTube video, or allowing one’s imagination to make up what her motives “might” be.
    One problem with this sort of sharing of personal experience is that some women — not Angie Jackson, as it’s obvious by looking at her story more closely — may want to share this sort of experience as a way of compensating or seeking help for severe personal problems they are having, like maybe serious depression or a disabling social isolation unrelated to the fact that at the time they might be sharing that they’re having an abortion. It’s not that even in a situation like that that the woman doesn’t deserve the right to share her experiences publically and get support; it’s that it may not be best for her to do that because she’s not going to get the kind of support that would be best for her by doing so, and some may be more vulnerable than they realize to the opposition and even abuse that may follow this sort of disclosure.
    It’s not being patronizing to point this out if one doesn’t say that Angie Jackson somehow did the movement “wrong” by what she did (as Mary Ann Sorrentino’s commentary seems to say) but that what she did is something that’s really for the exceptional woman out there, and for most women (and for the movement as a whole) there’s more common, likely much better ways of supporting expressions of this experience.
    One issue here is what kind of “group” she’s sharing her story through and with, and comparing what she did (and the response she got from the pro-choice community) to the Redstockings abortion speak-outs is a great analogy. The Redstockings abortion speak-outs grew out of consciousness-raising groups where women gathered together to speak of their experiences freely and get support. There are big differences between consciousness raising groups, which were intended to be therapeutic, and individual acts of self-expression and protest, like guerrilla theater, which is a kind of performance art which are often done in contexts of protest where it’s expected that the protester or performance artist will personally have to deal with reactions from people opposed to what they are trying to do or say.
    Most abortion speak-outs were not public. Women participating in them were assured of a safe space in speaking out, and it was a self-selected but group-supported few who chose to speak out publically. That safety and support obviously can’t be assured when live-tweeting or YouTube-ing in near-real-time one’s experiences. That’s obvious to most people, of course, familiar with the internet, but it might not be so obvious to someone with other serious personal problems who again might be using this sort of expression to get support or help for issues not related to having an abortion.
    Mary Ann Sorrentino does have a valid historical point in that the abortion reform movement of the 1960s was more about ensuring privacy for a woman to make these choices than we may realize today. Abortion was available back then to women who could deal with the restrictive laws of the time, which usually meant getting more than one doctor or maybe even a committee of doctors at a local hospital to prescribe abortion for psychatric reasons, like that the woman in question might have a nervous breakdown of sorts or even become suicidal if she didn’t have an abortion, or prove that there were serious medical consequences if she didn’t.
    Some abortion referral groups at the time like the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion were especially good at helping women prepare for this, or refer them elsewhere to good but grey-market abortion providers if they still couldn’t qualify for an abortion by the judgement of those doctors more familiar with her case. Psychatric and medical conditions were often exaggerated or misstated as doctors tried to make up reasons for doing abortions in cases where the reason was wholly elective. That was humiliating, obviously, both to the woman and the doctors involved, as Sorrentino surely knows. Maybe that’s something that Sorrentino was trying to get across, but as is sometimes the case in reading the perspective of someone with a background one isn’t familiar with, she assumes too much that young activists today are going to get the references she’s making — or maybe it’s easy for us to assume too much of what she’s saying.
    It’s not unreasonable to express concern that some other women not as strong as Angie Jackson might be more inclined to do something similar and be overwhelmed or somehow negatively affected by the response they get, and to make sure it’s understood that there are more private and supportive environments to share their story, like Exhale, for example, which can also like consciousness-raising groups of the past support social change, and not just thearpeutic adjustment. Emphasizing that, rather than seeming to be personally critical of Angie Jackson’s motives and style of sharing her experience, would be more helpful to those women who need support and deserve a safe(er) space to express themselves in.