Social Justice

Steph Herold: Using Twitter As A Weapon For Reproductive Rights

Steph Herold shows us that activism can begin with a word, an action, or even a Twitter hashtag. Who knew? Read More

By / January 4, 2011

In a time where social networking is a large part of almost everyone’s life, many activists have found social networking sites to be a successful venue for social action.

Steph Herold is one of them. A young abortion-rights activist living in Brooklyn, Herold has worked in direct service abortion care and reproductive health advocacy, and recently discovered that Twitter was a surprising way to get women’s voices heard loudly. So loudly, in fact, that they made it all the way to CNN.

#IHadAnAbortion is a twitter hashtag started as a new venue for women to tell their abortion stories. The inspiration, said Herold, was a blog post she read which compares the modern pro-choice movement to the gay rights movement of the 1970s. “What strengthened the gay rights movement then, according to [this blog post], were people coming out, and the general public realizing that homosexuality is more common and prevalent (and normal!) than they ever imagined. The author of the post posed an interesting question: why don’t we do that for abortion rights? That really struck a chord with me. The anti-choice movement has tried to make abortion the sin of a few bad women. In reality, abortion is a regular part of women’s lives,” explained Herold.

Using Twitter for social action hasn’t been an easy road, “Some anti-choice individuals thought I was somehow getting paid to promote the hashtag. Other anti-choice people accused me of exploiting women for my own gain. A few people on the pro-choice side accused me of trivializing abortion, but many just didn’t understand twitter as a legitimate space for people to tell their stories.”

#IHadAnAbortion is not the first Twitter hashtag to be used for social activism, but it may be the most controversial.  “Honestly, I wasn’t even sure people were going to use the hashtag” Herold said, “I wish the media was always as interested in hearing women’s abortion stories and using them for good instead of sensationalizing abortion and the women who have them.”

Steph is also the founder of the website which honors the life and work of Dr. Tiller, a Kansas doctor who was murdered for performing abortions at his clinic. The site also shares the stories of abortion nurses, counselors, escorts and doctors who put their lives on the line everyday in order to make abortion safe and accessible to women.

Being Jewish has been an integral part of Herold’s activism, “Being a feminist and an observant Jew was an identity that was really difficult for me to inhabit,” she explains, “At one point, a Rabbi told me that I should never be permitted to enter a synagogue because of my (feminist/pro-choice/women are full human beings) beliefs. His words did the opposite of what he wanted: they made me even more of an ardent believer and advocate for abortion rights and reproductive justice. And I never went to synagogue anyway.”

Are you sitting there thinking, “What can I do to advocate for women and make abortions safe and accessible?”  Well, good news: “There are so many ways to support abortion providers.” Says Steph.  “You can become a clinic escort and volunteer to make sure that patients get into clinics safely and with minimal anti-choice harassment. You can donate to places like the Abortion Care Network, Planned Parenthood, and the National Network of Abortion Funds. You can write a letter to the editor of your local paper about supporting providers and reproductive rights. You can talk to your friends and family about why you support abortion rights. You can ask your friends and family (respectfully) to tell their abortion stories.

“Some women regret their abortions, some women feel relieved after they have abortions, and some feel a mix or something totally different. We have to create a culture where all of these experiences are acceptable. I hope that talking honestly, even if just on Twitter, is a step in that direction.”

Steph Herold shows us that activism can begin with a word, an action, or even a Twitter hashtag. Who knew?