Exclusive Interview: The Pro-Choice Woman Who Bravely Published Her Abortion Pictures Online

If you went in for an abortion today, would you know what to expect? Would you have any clue what the process would be like? Probably not.
Publish date:
July 11, 2012
abortion clinics, abortion, interviews, The Jane Dough, M

If you went in for an abortion today, would you know what to expect? Would you have any clue what the process would be like? Probably not. It’s a procedure that an estimated 40 percent of American women have received -- and yet real, honest conversation on the issue rarely seems to happen. But a new website, This Is My Abortion, wants to change all that. How? By showing what an actual abortion looks like.

With a URL like “www.thisismyabortion.com,” you’d think it would be pretty obvious what’s there. But while jarring images of dead fetuses flood most anti-choice groups’ propaganda, the pictures you see on This Is My Abortion aren’t what you might expect at all. There are no horrifying images. No dank, dark, scary rooms with creepy doctors. In fact, if anything, the images in This Is My Abortion are that of a straight-forward medical procedure (see images below).

And that’s exactly what the site’s photographer intended.

Started by an anonymous woman living in the U.S., who goes by the pseudonym “Jane,” This Is My Abortion shows Jane’s actual abortion in process. Fed up with “the sensationalist images propagated by the religious and political right on this matter,” Jane said she wanted to “demystify” what an abortion is really like.

“The perverse use of lifeless fetus photographs are a propaganda tool in the prolife/prochoice debate in which women and their bodies are used as pawns to push a cultural, political and religious agenda in the United State,” Jane explained on her site.

Of course, it wasn’t long until her project gained serious traction. Jane recently wrote an op-ed in The Guardian, sharing the story of her abortion. She’s received a deluge of responses — some good, some bad — to her photos. And now, she’s speaking to The Jane Dough about her work, its widespread attention, and the state of abortion rights in the U.S.

The Jane Dough: Your project, thisismyabortion.com, and the follow-up op-ed you wrote for The Guardian have received a huge amount of attention. Were you surprised by how quickly this project went viral?

Jane: I was, indeed, surprised that it moved so quickly. I knew that it would be contentious, but I didn’t consider how quickly contentious issues are ignited in the public sphere.

TJD: What do you think motivated readers’ fascination with your story?

Jane: I wouldn’t put a blanket answer to this question. The readers themselves have been nothing short of diverse, opinionated, impassioned. I think overall, it’s safe to say that the matter of abortion and a woman’s right to choose is one that can elicit intense reaction from any direction.

That being said, gauging from the response I have had from the audience, I think there are a few underlying themes that are noteworthy. There is a sense of desperation in men and women who have singlehandedly or inadvertently experienced abortion to connect and relate to a broader community. Thisismyabortion.com has somehow become a space for people to find just that. This audience connects with my story and feels at ease to finally express their story.

People are starving for knowledge and they know it. The issue of abortion is beyond polarized. It’s completely radicalized by the religious and political right. The dead fetus image has become the poster child for these propagandists to push their agenda. However, the public isn’t stupid. They question the legitimacy of such imagery and further feel violated by the irresponsible use of that imagery. The audience has been thankful to have an alternative perspective to what an abortion can look like.

TJD: What has the overall reaction to your project been? Have readers been receptive to what you have to say?

Jane: The reaction has been quite profound. Men and women from all over the world have contacted me confiding very personal experiences, opinions, and offering support and connection. I cannot express enough how inspirational the public has been for me. Their courage and candidness is what fuels my drive to continue working on this project.

It would be unfair to not acknowledge that there has been a mentionable amount of what I’ve come to fondly refer to as “General Hate Mail.” I direct all of that correspondence to a designated tidy folder in my inbox in case I need it later. A piece was published about the project on catholic.org and some pro-life bloggers covered the site. As you can imagine, that compelled a specific unpleasant response loop.

TJD: As you accurately point out in your Guardian piece, the bulk of the conversation surrounding abortion often comes from the anti-choice set, which can lead to misinformation. Specifically, you argue that “images are literally being used as a weapon to petrify and assault viewers into fear, shame, and isolation.” In your opinion, what is the biggest misconception about abortion in the U.S.?

Jane: I think the biggest misconception about abortion in the U.S. is that it is always a barbaric experience. The very act of abortion has been propagated as murder and women and abortion caregivers have been vilified as murderers. For some of us who have had a safe abortion, it has hardly been a monstrous experience. Rather, it has been secure, clean and I would argue, even nurturing. I hope that these photographs and sharing my personal journey help to show that side of the story.

TJD:In what ways did your experience differ from the anti-choice propaganda you’ve seen?

Jane: I stayed awake through the entirety of the procedure with lower doses of pain killers for personal reasons. This allowed for me to not only be coherent before, during, and after the procedure, but it enabled me capture these images. I watched the entire process take place. There was no dead baby in the jar and there was no net to capture baby parts at the top of the jar either. Some pro-life folks have written me talking about the “large net” at the top of the jar that captures parts. That was simply not true in my case. What you see in the photographs is true to form.

Additionally, the many doctors, nurses, advocates and counselors who walked me through the abortion were hands-down incredible. Not only did they create a safe, warm space within the clinic, they genuinely cared for my overall well-being and were nothing short of professional. These caregivers are true heroes.

TJD:Reading your story and its reference to the “bulletproof doors” and angry protesters at the abortion clinic, I couldn’t help but think of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Mississippi’s only remaining abortion clinic, which narrowly avoided closure last week. Are you surprised by the level of hostility toward abortion rights that remains in the U.S.?

Jane: Mississippi is a frightening example what could happen in this country. It is absolutely imperative that every measure is taken to keep abortion legal and safe for women to obtain and for their caregivers to perform. On the one hand I am completely surprised by the hostility toward abortion rights in what is at first glance a seemingly progressive country. On the other hand, with the very existence of the conservatives, I am not surprised at all. At this point in time, there is a real and valid fear in the U.S. that we are about to plummet backwards into the dark ages. Imagine not having safe women’s health options for yourself, your sister, your mother, your daughter. Imagine having to go overseas to obtain safe medical options.

TJD: Finally, if there’s one message you hope that readers take away from your project, what would it be?

Jane: Education, education, education. Educate yourselves in order to make the best decision for yourself. We live in times of information saturation. Sift through the garbage, find the stuff that sticks, and do what you feel is best for you.

In the first in a series of four photos, in which Jane documents her abortion.

Jane took the images covertly with her cellphone.

As Jane explained, she was under low doses of pain killers and was awake during the procedure.

The final image.

For comparison, here is an image taken from a "pro-life" rally. It's this kind of imagery that Jane says she was hoping to combat with her project. (Image via Democratic Underground.)

This interview has been edited and condensed. All images courtesy of This Is My Abortion, unless otherwise noted.

Reprinted with permission from The Jane Dough.