Women Talk Through Their Abortions on TikTok

“Have an abortion with me,” a single mother from Brooklyn named Sunni says as she twirls around her kitchen to light jazzy piano, before walking TikTok viewers through the steps she took to end her pregnancy at home.

With states expanding restrictions on abortion and the issue likely to be at the forefront of the presidential election, women are creating videos on social media describing their own abortions and sharing practical information on how to obtain one.

Sunni explained to viewers that she was craving information when she was planning her abortion. “This is the video I was looking for,” she said.

The reaction to her video, which has been viewed more than 400,000 times and has drawn comments of both commiseration and condemnation, shows how deeply personal and divisive the issue remains in the run up to the November elections.

One viewer, a campaigner with the group Protect Life Michigan, remixed the video on the group’s own TikTok account, criticizing Sunni for her lighthearted tone and for making the video at all.

“I just don’t understand how we are making a video, and we are laughing and joking about going through the abortion process,” the campaigner said.

The Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade in 2022 led to a cascade of abortion bans and restrictions across large parts of the United States. Twenty-one states now ban or restrict the procedure earlier than the standard set by Roe.

In response, there has been an explosion of social media content related to abortion — some of it overtly political, some informational and some testimonial as women seek answers, seek support, or simply seek to share.

The landscape for abortion access is changing rapidly. Last month, the justices heard arguments over whether to curtail access to a widely used abortion pill, with a decision expected this June or July. This month, Arizona’s Supreme Court upheld an 1864 law that bans nearly all abortions.

Former President Donald Trump has taken credit for a Supreme Court that overturned Roe v. Wade, but has since distanced himself from the idea of a national abortion ban. President Biden, meanwhile, sees advantage from pinning the narrowing landscape for abortion on Republicans.

With the laws in flux state by state, Sunni and others have made TikToks to explain how to obtain abortion pills and have the procedure at home. In other videos on the site, women have grappled with their own experiences, expressing everything from relief to regret. These personal videos have become fodder for political campaigns, which have used them to argue either for an expansion of abortion rights or for further restrictions.

Confused over where and what forms of abortion are allowed state to state, young people seeking to end their pregnancies are increasingly turning to social media for guidance, researchers have found.

“The chaos and the confusion and the stigma is the point with abortion bans and targeted regulations,” said Rebecca Nall, the founder of an online database, I Need an A, that directs users to abortion resources.

“More and more people are going online with their most personal questions,” she added, “and more and more people are offering information.”

Before Roe v. Wade, desperate women called Jane, an underground abortion network, for advice on what to do about unwanted pregnancies. Later, campaigns encouraged women to talk about their abortion openly.

With women now turning to TikTok for information and as a vehicle for self-expression, the app has also become a forum for discussion. On some videos, viewers posed practical questions about procuring abortion drugs or finding a provider. They shared fears of physical pain and anxieties over the logistical complexities of arranging one. Other viewers expressed regret for having had abortions.

Some voices were critical, faulting women for having abortions and for speaking openly about it, without remorse.

The women sharing their stories — and the viewers who write to them asking for advice — are engaging in conversations that could be at risk. Some states’ attorneys general have expressed an appetite to prosecute those who “aid and abet” abortions, including those who provide information, and to subpoena online messages.

Sunni, 30, who asked that her full name not be used out of fear that she could be further targeted by abortion opponents, said in an interview that she became interested in reproductive health justice when she was pregnant with her daughter in 2021.

She had become active on TikTok and was alarmed to find videos of people recommending herbal remedies like parsley to induce an abortion. When she was pregnant last year, after experiencing a difficult childbirth the first time, she decided to have an abortion and to share the experience with her followers.

With TikTok awash in activism from anti-abortion campaigners and proponents of abortion rights, Sunni said she wanted to focus on the practicalities of a medication abortion, the most common form in the United States. That included the order that the mifepristone and misoprostol pills must be taken, and the creature comforts — like Totino’s frozen pizza — she relied on to help with pain management and recovery.

“It’s something that so many people go through,” she said in an interview. “There are people walking around you going through this thing and until they feel normal and accepted, they’re not going to be able to heal.”

The video she made received more than 1,000 comments. Sunni said she received hundreds of messages from girls and young women seeking direction on how to obtain the pills and manage pain.

“You do have to navigate it,” she said, “and nobody shows you how.”

Another testimonial came from Mikaela Attu, a Canadian who said in an interview that she was shocked by the overturning of Roe v. Wade, particularly because abortion care was not difficult to access in Canada.

In a TikTok video, she took viewers along to multiple hospital visits near her home in Vancouver, from an ultrasound to confirm her pregnancy to a shot of her feet in stirrups at the beginning of a procedure to terminate it.

In another video, viewed 7.5 million times, Ms. Attu talked about the heartbreak of getting pregnant with a man she loved, but not being able to go through with it.

Ms. Attu and her husband plan to have children, she said, but she was dealing with mental health issues when she got pregnant last year and did not feel prepared to start a family.

“I wanted to show that abortion is complicated,” she said.

Other women have made TikToks to express their grief over having an abortion.

One viewer of another woman’s abortion video commented that it reminded her of the pain she endured as a 16-year-old, going through her own abortion.

Desireé Dallagiacomo, 33, a writer and poet in California, recorded a video as she got ready for an abortion appointment.

“I’m fine and stable,” she told viewers, “and I just don’t want a child.”

Ms. Dallagiacomo, 33, said in an interview that she wanted to share her story, in part, to challenge the prevailing narratives about why people have abortions.

With abortion rights increasingly targeted, what women share about their abortions on social media has come into focus.

Attorneys general in Texas, Alabama and Louisiana have indicated an interest in prosecuting abortion providers and other groups that coordinate them, creating uncertainty over whether those who share information online could be held liable.

“There’s a movement afoot to criminalize information,” said Mary Ziegler, a law professor at the University of California, Davis, who has written extensively about abortion.

In July, a teenager in Nebraska was charged with concealing a death, her aborted fetus, and sentenced to 90 days in jail. In the case, prosecutors subpoenaed Facebook messages she had exchanged with her mother, in which the two discussed abortion pills.

The case in Nebraska suggests the conversations that people have about abortion can be used against them, Professor Ziegler said.

“In the post-Dobbs era, there’s an interesting and tricky trade-off,” she said, between sharing stories to destigmatize the experience “and the fact that speaking out could create unintended legal risks.”

The specter of punishment for sharing information about abortion was just one of the ways Ms. Dallagiacomo said she found her abortion experience “isolating.”

“There is just so much keeping us from honestly telling our story,” she said.