Cherry Hill abortion video draws dramatic reaction

A scene from the video showing Emily Letts having an abortion in November. She has received praise; she also has been roundly criticized. Her video went viral Monday. More than 650,000 hits were recorded by early Wednesday evening.
A scene from the video showing Emily Letts having an abortion in November. She has received praise; she also has been roundly criticized. Her video went viral Monday. More than 650,000 hits were recorded by early Wednesday evening.
Posted: May 09, 2014

In the annals of abortion commentary, Emily Letts' decision to use social media to tell the story of her abortion is not unique.

But the reaction may be.

The 25-year-old was six weeks pregnant when she filmed her November abortion at the Cherry Hill Women's Center, where she works as a counselor. Her three-minute video - with a choppily edited monologue and a view of nothing more graphic than her blue hospital gown - went on YouTube on March 14.

Since then, it has gone viral, turning her into the subject of commendation, condemnation, and plain old curiosity in both the traditional and new media worlds.

She didn't anticipate it.

"When I brought the proposal to my administrator, we were thinking, maybe just use it as a training video, or maybe give it to other practitioners," said Letts, who lives in the Philadelphia area. "We never expected it to get this crazy. It's very clear to me that women in America are thirsting to talk about this. I could fill a book with their powerful [abortion] stories. How they feel guilty and alone. Which is crazy."

At the Cherry Hill center, communications director Jen Boulanger praised Letts' "brave decision" to share her experience.

"The powerful responses she's had have really shined a light on the truth that good women have abortions and good people provide them," Boulanger said.

The alexjoneschannel, the eponymous YouTube site of syndicated radio host Alex Jones, had a different take.

Under the headline "Is Abortion Seductress Acting or Pure Evil?", the site opined that "Many will find it ironic – or just plain sick – that Letts is an actress who most recently played a role in a late-night horror flick called Hallows' Eve, a low-budget 'slasher' movie in which teenagers are violently murdered by a vengeful killer."

Actually, Letts said, she's a former actress.

Social media have been used by both sides in the abortion debate. Several YouTube videos show or explain abortion using abortion pills. A video by abortion foes shows a vacuum aspiration procedure like Letts had - but shot from the patient's groin.

Carole Joffe, a University of California sociologist who studies reproductive rights, said Letts' video was "unusual, but not entirely unique. But I think the attention it's getting is rather unprecedented."

Joffe said the use of social media and the Internet to try to destigmatize abortion through personal accounts is behind Project Exhale, a self-described "pro-voice community," and Sea Change, a California-based program.

"I think we'll see more of these things," she said.

Indeed, after Letts made her film, she submitted it to the first-ever video contest sponsored by the Abortion Care Network, a group of abortion providers.

"I sent it in, it won, and they released it to the Internet," she said.

On Cosmopolitan magazine's website, she shared more of her story Monday - which is when her video went viral. More than 650,000 hits were recorded by 6:20 p.m. Wednesday at www.inquirer.com/letts

"It was my first pregnancy, and, full disclosure, I hadn't been using any kind of birth control, which is crazy, I know," she wrote. "I didn't have any long-term partners. I thought I was OK. But, you know, things happen. I wound up pregnant . . .

"I knew the cameras were in the room during the procedure, but I forgot about them almost immediately. I was focused on staying positive and feeling the love from everyone in the room. I remember breathing and humming through it like I was giving birth. I know that sounds weird. . . . It will always be a special memory for me. I still have my sonogram, and if my apartment were to catch fire, it would be the first thing I'd grab."

A sampling of reaction from anti-abortion groups and conservative media: "Horrible." "Disturbing." "Bizarre."

Asked whether she worried that she might live to regret her candor, Letts said: "I believe in doing the best we can, learning from mistakes and moving forward. Do I think in 10 or 20 years I'll look back on this as a mistake? Absolutely not."


mmccullough@phillynews.com

215-854-2720

@repopter

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