Abortion stories: Claiming feminist spaces on the Internet
Protecting the rights to access and share information on the Internet is a battle that offers little respite for Women on Web. Abortion stories told by women is a way to carve out space in the online publics that are otherwise overwhelmingly male.
Blog by Venny Ala-Siurua*
Women on Web is a safe and inclusive digital space where women and pregnant people can access information, share experiences and redefine debates around abortion access. Every year Women on Web welcomes millions of visitors to its website to explore and discuss their reproductive choices. The website enables us to help 60,000 women, answer over 100,000 emails every year and it also hosts a collection of unfiltered abortion stories.
We strive for an internet where women can freely access information, make informed decisions about their reproductive health and participate in debates and discussions without fear of harassment. Expanding access to self-managed abortions through our website resonates with the feminist internet principles of resistance, access and expression. With access to reliable information women can claim autonomy over their bodies and share their experiences to amplify the silenced narratives of unwanted pregnancies.
Online attacks on abortion access
Internet never became the democratic and decentralized utopia that we dreamed of, where information spreads without restrictions. For women and queer persons, this has meant that offline fights for equality are replicated online. The pursuit of gender equality on the Internet is often an uphill battle against corporations and governments monopolizing data and information available online.
While Women on Web fights to keep its services and narratives online, misinformation on abortions is crowding the Internet and access to information is blocked by censorship and restricted by algorithms. Since Women on Web started in 2005, its website has been censored in several countries where abortion access is either illegal, restricted or influenced by religious and political agendas. Censorship undermines free expression and access to information, but it does not stop women from needing abortions.
During the COVID-19 public health crisis, we observed promising examples of the UK, France and Ireland legalizing telemedicine abortion done with abortion pill. Sadly, progress in some countries has been undermined by opposite practices in others. In May, our website became censored in Spain, where abortions are legal within the first trimester. Claiming and protecting safe spaces on the internet to facilitate access to live-saving abortion care is an unpredictable battle that offers little respite for us.
In May 2020, our operations also absorbed the disparate impact of Google’s core update. This caused a significant drop in the traffic to the website and has had troubling consequences on abortion access, pegging the question whether algorithms are reinforcing gender biases and failing to factor in nuances of the specialized work of WOW.
Carving out feminist spaces through abortion stories
When women are silenced offline and online and when abortion access in under attack, it is critical that women’s voices are amplified and their experiences are shared, telling the stories of abortions that are OK, normal and common. Abortion is one of the most performed medical intervention worldwide and all women and pregnant people need to know this. They need to hear about the humans and experiences behind these statistics to feel confident about their choices and to know there is information and support available to them. Every unfiltered story told on our website contributes to further learning and carves out a little more space in the online publics that are otherwise overwhelmingly male.
To read abortion stories: https://www.womenonweb.org/en/page/488/i-had-an-abortion
To share your story: https://www.womenonweb.org/en/yourstory
To read more about self-managed abortions: https://www.womenonweb.org/en/page/6905/questions-and-answers
Venny Ala-Siurua is the Manager of Operations at Women on Web.