Alabama abortion bill: Women share emotionally charged stories in wake of 'disgusting' ban

Maya Oppenheim

Women have been sharing emotionally charged stories of having abortions after Alabama voted for a near total ban on abortion in the US state.

The hashtag #youknowme started spreading on social media after actor Busy Philipps asked women who have had abortions to share their stories.

The move mirrored the #MeToo movement against sexual assault and harassment which exploded in 2017 and saw millions of women around the world share their own stories of rape, assault and harassment alongside the hashtag.

"1 in 4 women have had an abortion. Many people think they don't know someone who has, but #youknowme," Philipps tweeted.

"So let's do this: if you are also the 1 in 4, let's share it and start to end the shame. Use #youknowme and share your truth," the talk show host said in a Twitter post which has been liked more than 39,000 times and shared almost 8,000 times.

This comes after Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed a controversial abortion bill into law on Wednesday that is the most restrictive abortion bill in the US.

Under the law, doctors would face 10 years in prison for attempting to terminate a pregnancy and 99 years for carrying out the procedure. The strict abortion ban, which has been branded a “death sentence for women”, would even criminalise performing abortions in cases of rape and incest.

Ms Ivey said the new law might be “unenforceable” due to Roe v Wade – the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalised abortion nationwide in 1973 – but said the new law was passed with the aim of challenging that decision.

Last week on her talk show Busy Tonight on the E! cable channel, Philipps said she had an abortion when she was a teenager.

"Maybe you are sitting there thinking I don't know a woman who would have an abortion, well you know me. I had an abortion when I was 15 years old," she said as she fought back tears.

"I'm telling you this because I'm genuinely really scared for women and girls in this country. I think we should be talking more and sharing our stories more."

Hundreds of women on Wednesday replied to Philipps’ plea for women to come forward with their own personal stories of abortions.

"I was 19, in college, I was on the pill. I was doing everything I was 'supposed' to do to pull myself from poverty #youknowme,” said one.

Another woman described her abortion experience at the age of 22: "Very scared, unstable relationship, grieving my mum's death the year before. Prayed on my knees the morning of. Cried and cried and cried. No regrets #YouKnowMe."

One Twitter user shared the tale of her elderly neighbour who told her about the time she was forced to have an illegal abortion along with other pregnant girls.

"One girl bled out and died. She still shakes when she tells the story,” she tweeted.

Jameela Jamil, who stars on The Good Place, also revealed she once had an abortion.

"It was the best decision I have ever made. Both for me, and for the baby I didn't want, and wasn't ready for, emotionally, psychologically and financially," she tweeted on Monday.

Alabama state lawmakers compare abortions in America to the Holocaust and other modern genocides in the legislation – spurring Jewish activists and abortion rights groups to rebuke the bill as “deeply offensive.”

Alabama’s new bill comes as politicians in several other states propose legislation to restrict abortion such as Georgia’s recent heartbeat bill. Some 16 other states are trying to impose new restrictions on abortion.

Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia have approved bans on abortion once a foetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy. At six weeks, many women do not yet know they are pregnant.

While supporters of Alabama’s decision say they expect the law to be blocked in court, they hope that the appeals process will bring it before the Supreme Court. Alarm bells have been raised that Roe v Wade could be overturned or radically undermined with new conservative justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, both Trump appointees.

Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who will be challenging the controversial Alabama bill, said: “We are disappointed but we are ready to fight. What Alabama has done is part of a national coordinated strategy to push abortion out of reach for all women. We are going to go to court and make sure that does not happen.

“For years, Alabama has been pushing laws that chip away at abortion but what happened last night, and what is happening in Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, and Georgia is an example of politicians showing their true colours. They are launching an unprecedented, and the most extreme attack, on abortion in recent years. If the law took effect, it would be devastating.”