Imagine waking up to an email from a complete stranger wishing that you would be sold into the “sex trade” and “forced to give birth over and over again and then die from giving birth.”
This is my reality. I had an abortion at 19 and I talk about it publicly; as a result, I deal with a nearly constant onslaught of hate mail, tweets, and Facebook messages. After an essay I wrote about my experience terminating a pregnancy went viral, I was frightened every time another email and tweet notification popped up on my phone. For a time I turned off the notifications, but that didn’t subdue the feelings of isolation and fear. The graphic comments were on my mind for days and I couldn’t function: Who were these people and why do they wish such horrifying things towards me?
“It’s just a debate,” people often say. Or: “It’s a controversial topic.” But many feminist critics argue that hate and rape threats aren’t debate, nor are they an exercise in free speech. As Laurie Penny outlined in Al Jazeera, calling out a government agency for infringing on our rights on Twitter is not nearly the same tweeting someone that you hope they die a slow and painful death because they had an abortion—such comments are abuse. When people of color, women, queer and transgender people, and other marginalized communities speak out against harmful rhetoric and violence, we become targets for violence, both online and off. We know the goal of this harassment is to silence us, but we won’t back down.