She sat in the back row at Seattle Central Community College in a faded Wu-Tang shirt and threadbare jeans. Her hair resembled a mammal on the shoulder of a freeway and she had bags under her otherwise beautiful green eyes. Though she spent too much time sneaking into bars on Capitol Hill and not enough time on her homework, she found herself drawn to progressive causes. She attended almost every anti-war, anti-police brutality and anti-deportation protest and every Pride Parade Seattle had to offer, but this intelligent, 18-year-old woman never fathomed that years later, she’d become a globally recognized feminist. This was Amelia Bonow circa 2003.
In 2015, Bonow was in graduate school studying clinical psychology when the Republican-led Congress attempted to defund Planned Parenthood. Amid doctored videos of fetal tissue sales, extensive clinic closures, clinic vandalism and violence against their caregivers and patients, Bonow penned an unambiguously positive and heartfelt statement about terminating her unwanted pregnancy. She posted her abortion story on Facebook and Twitter. Her friends and followers, including feminist writer Lindy West, shared the post. Over the next few days, Bonow’s emotional story began circulating around the world, giving birth to the #ShoutYourAbortion campaign and triggering an entire movement centered on her unique narrative.
Ahead of the second presidential debate, and with a month to go until the national election, Playboy asked writer Fagan Kuhnmuench, a former classmate of Bonow’s, to interview the rising activist about what’s really on the ballot for women this year. Bonow is unapologetic in her opinions and takes both candidates—and their veeps—to task on their respectives plans for the future of the reproductive rights movement, as well as the implications of electing a pro-life Congress and president, who could appoint as many as three Supreme Court justices in the next four years and overturn Roe v. Wade.
We have two presidential candidates with historically low favorability ratings, but the less talked about vice presidential candidates are the ones who have unique relationships with abortion. Former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine is in favor of the Hyde Amendment, which severely limits Medicaid-funded abortions and reproductive care and promotes abstinence education to combat unwanted pregnancies. Former Indiana Governor Mike Pence vows to overturn Roe v. Wade, calling it the “worst Supreme Court decision since Dred Scott.” How do these vice presidential appointments foreshadow future obstacles for women’s reproductive rights?
Mike Pence is the most anti-choice politician who has ever been on a presidential ticket; he represents the fringe of public opinion, even within the GOP. Very few people believe that a woman should be forced to cremate her miscarriage or carry a pregnancy to term that was the product of rape or incest. The policies themselves are shocking and their consequences would be unimaginable.
If Mike Pence actually wanted to end abortion, he wouldn’t have fought to defund Planned Parenthood, the organization that most low-income Americans rely upon for birth control. Also, Pence knows that abortion bans don’t work; countless studies have shown that women have abortions whether or not the procedure is legal. It’s just a matter of who can have them and whether or not they’re safe. It’s clear that Donald Trump does not care about brown people, but he also doesn’t really care about abortion. When Pence joined the ticket, “Make America Great Again” was imbued with his intention to make America a place where only white women have reproductive autonomy.
Kaine is a Catholic whose opinion is fairly reflective of the majority: he sees abortion as a morally complex issue but clear cut in terms of public policy. Whether or not Kaine agrees with abortion, he knows it’s necessary and that regulating access is an incredibly slippery slope. I appreciate Kaine’s unimpeachable pro-choice voting record, but his support of the Hyde Amendment is troubling. The legality of abortion is irrelevant if it’s inaccessible, and Hyde has obliterated abortion access for the economically disenfranchised by making the procedure ineligible for Medicaid coverage. If you believe that poor folks should have access to healthcare, then it’s easy to see why pay-to-play abortion access is unjust. In any case, Hillary Clinton is the first presidential candidate proposing the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, so Tim Kaine’s feelings on the matter aren’t incredibly important.
The people who fuck with me for talking about my abortion would fuck with me no matter what, because they hate women.
In March, the Supreme Court struck down Texas’s so-called anti-abortion bill, HB2. The ruling found that forcing clinics to meet stringent hospital standards that “do not benefit the patients” was illegal and placed “undue burden” on women seeking health care services and abortions. Why do you think there was no mention of reproductive rights in the first presidential debate?
Although abortion is a normal medical procedure, it’s something many people feel deeply uncomfortable discussing. As the religious right rose to power in the 1990s, they were able to capitalize on this reluctance by proclaiming that abortion is murder. They’ve monopolized political discourse ever since. The picture painted by the right was so ghastly that the left retreated into an entirely defensive stance, best illustrated by “safe, legal and rare.” Politicians on the left promise their constituents they’ll “defend a woman’s right to choose” while the right has built a propaganda campaign so aggressive that they’ve managed to convince millions of people that Planned Parenthood is something out of a horror film.
Am I surprised that abortion wasn’t touched by either Democrat in the first seven primary debates, even as the country is in the midst of unprecedented regression in abortion access? Not at all. The left has never figured out how to talk about abortion in way that is based on real human experiences and consequences.
When abortion comes up in a bipartisan debate, it’s almost always introduced by the right. It’s an easy way to flummox Democrats who are barely comfortable advocating for abortion access. It will be interesting to see if Trump and Clinton get into it during the next debate. I want Hillary to come out and advocate for abortion access as a social good. Trump would be forced to try and adopt the moral high ground—the only tool the right has at its disposal in this conversation.
Anti-choice activists are known for direct-action tactics like picketing clinics, publicizing pro-choice activists’ personal information, harassment, assault and even murder. You’ve recounted the misogynistic and the patriarchal criticism you’ve encountered during this campaign. Do you ever fear for your safety?
If anti-choice forces hadn’t been so successful in terrorizing those who advocate for abortion, then there wouldn’t be any need for #ShoutYourAbortion to exist in the first place. The right has normalized a cultural environment in which doctors are regularly murdered and people seeking health care are forced to walk through a gauntlet of abuse. I refuse to use my platform to discuss potential victimhood. SYA was born from collective resistance to fear-mongering and it’s a vehicle of empowerment, not a liability. With respect to whether or not I fear for my safety: as a woman, the world has never really been safe for me. The people who fuck with me for talking about my abortion would fuck with me no matter what, because they hate women. I might as well live truthfully instead of acquiescing to the people who have made personal expression—especially around this issue—into a source of vulnerability.
You meet a young girl who is six weeks pregnant, broke and scared and who can’t get an abortion without parental consent. What would you say to her?
I’d probably say very little. I’d mostly listen.
Describe the day you first shouted your abortion. What made you wake up that day to become such a loudmouth?
The day before I shouted my abortion, the House of Representatives voted to defund Planned Parenthood. I’d spent the day crying and flipping out instead of writing a paper for grad school. I felt helpless and disenfranchised. The day I wrote the post, I had a realization that my feelings of helplessness and anger were being exacerbated by my silence. My positive abortion experience is the most unassailable part of my pro-choice identity, but I had not been using the full range of my voice in claiming that. And I’ve always been a loudmouth. Openly discussing my abortion is conducive with my personality; my silence was not.
Follow Fagan Kuhnmuench on Twitter: @gnarlyheadache.