TikTokers Organize to Tackle the Downfall of Roe v. Wade

CC Attribution: Lorie Shaull

By Melissa Wells

Trigger Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of sexual assault.

A 7-2 ruling that once remained the bedrock of American law since 1973, Roe v. Wade has fractured American politics into two very distinct sides that have quarreled with one another for decades. It bears down on the fundamental question of whether bodily autonomy is important to the sanctity of the American democratic process.

In the landmark case, Jane Roe sought to terminate her pregnancy, but Texas law strictly prohibited abortions except in instances where the woman’s life was in danger. On Jan. 22, 1973, the court ruled in favor of Roe. They held that a woman’s right to an abortion fell within the right to privacy, as recognized in Griswold v. Connecticut and protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. The decision gave total autonomy over pregnancies during the first trimester, allowing further definition at different levels of state interest for the second and third trimesters.

Since the landmark case set a precedent, there have been countless attacks or attempts to restrict the right to abortion. According to a 2019 Gallup poll, 53 percent of U.S. adults today believe abortion should be legal “only under certain circumstances,” far greater than the 25 percent who favor it being legal with no restrictions and the 21 percent who think it should be completely illegal.

As per an American Psychological Association Survey conducted in Aug. 2020, 64 percent of Generation Z women noted that the potential for change in abortion laws would be a source of stress for them in 2020. The most pressing threat Americans faced was the likelihood that the Supreme Court might overturn the decision of Roe v. Wade, the only protection provided at the federal level, thus making abortion rights subject to state jurisdiction.

In a full-throated, unflinching repudiation of the landmark 1973 decision, a leaked Supreme Court draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito began circulating in early May. As it would vote to strike down Roe v. Wade, abortion rights supporters and anti-abortion advocates ramped up their efforts, sensing the potential arrival of a historic moment that could reshape American social and political life.

In general, young activists “are pushing forward with a more unapologetic voice,” said the president of Planned Parenthood’s action fund, Alexis McGill Johnson. As noted, in response, many Generation Z campaigners for abortion rights are taking to the streets and social media to voice their outcry and galvanize their peers.

Reinforced by the potential striking down Roe v. Wade, a trend of videos have emerged on TikTok dubbed “The Abortion Storytimes”, to discuss the sexual trauma that caused users or their relatives to turn to or consider abortion, as well as share incidents of sexual assault. 

The viral trend employs the musical background of lyrics from “vent” by Baby Keem to share various reasons why they believe Roe v. Wade should not be overturned: “Have you ever been punched in your motherf*cking face? What’d you say? Oh, you haven’t? Alright, wait — b*tch!” At the end, on the final line, each user steps on the camera, which cuts to black and reads: KEEP YOUR LAWS OFF OUR BODIES.

For example, TikTok user (@totallyheather90) applied the trend to share her sexual assault story, “Have you ever been roofied to wake up and find out the whole baseball team took turns on you while you were blacked out?”

In the video’s caption she expressed that she had told her boyfriend she wanted to wait until marriage, but instead he held the camera during the abuse — noting she was lucky the morning after pill worked.

Another TikTok user (@vegedaryn) shared her story of being locked in a room by 3 male friends with the intention of gang-raping her. She had no intention, she comments, of becoming part of the “97 percent”.

“The 97 percent” trend refers to the 97 percent of women who have been sexually assaulted, according to data from U.N. Women. The statistic has been widely circulating on social media in the aftermath of the Supreme Court draft leaking. The U.N. Women report also shared that only three percent of 18 to 24-year-olds reported that they have never been sexually assaulted.

Based on this specific cultural moment, this trend has taken on an essential role on this online social platform, which has emerged as a space wherein users in diverse geographical locations can share insights and cultivate an empowered rhetorical agency.

The function of this genre is to bring awareness to abortion rights, pro-choice, and both women’s and trans rights. The discourse community of #KeepYourLawsOffMyBody uses this genre to share their stories as to why they should maintain their bodily autonomy and the sexual assault stories that prove why abortion rights are necessary. 

The sound, which has been used in over 23,000 videos on the TikTok app, allows users to demonstrate just how personal a woman’s right to choose is. What makes this trend particularly powerful is that it is a strong rap song that has become easily recognizable, and at the heart of rap music is protest against unjust social structures and storytelling as a means to make injustice visible, to validate struggle and to share community experience. The lyrics also underscore that there’s very much a battle or fight that’s ongoing. 

This trend participates in highlighting the stories of sexual assault victims and information sharing during a tumultuous time in American politics regarding abortion rights as the country begins to feel the effects of Roe v. Wade’s fall. 

The literacies that emerge include information regarding the consequences of the collapse of Roe v. Wade on women’s, trans and abortion rights, the fallacies in the arguments made by pro-life campaigns, resources now that Roe v. Wade has been reversed and emphasis based on personal experiences of the necessity prochoice poses for women’s and trans rights.

The genre poses TikTok as a site for building community by enhancing the knowledge of women’s and trans rights within the realm of abortion rights to the general public, soliciting the actions of increasing knowledge of the consequences of the absence of said rights; sharing, reposting and boosting awareness amongst users and practicing community health by providing resources and access to support systems for reproductive health.

This community fights against the consequences of old, white men making decisions that affect and politicize laws regarding women’s bodies. They voice anger over the wave of abortion bans and restrictions taking hold in states across the country. 

Many states have passed so-called “heartbeat” bills, named in reference to the anti-abortion view that once a fetus’ heartbeat is detected at around six weeks, it has an undisputed right to life. Across the U.S., many states situated in the Midwest and South have begun implementing previously set-up trigger laws that aim to ban abortion with immediacy now that Roe v. Wade is overturned.

What the trend shows is that these situations will still occur, with or without legalized abortion. Research, according to a study by the Guttmacher Institute, shows that certain countries with the most restrictive abortion laws have higher abortion rates than countries where abortion is legal.

If people are denied abortion rights, their health can be placed at serious risk. Without accessible, safe abortions, they will need to travel out of state to get the help they need or worse yet, make more dangerous decisions regarding their health. The grim reality if Roe v. Wade is overturned is that it’s not going to stop abortions: It’s just going to stop safe abortions. 

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