Q&A: Actress Emily Letts on the Reaction to Her Abortion Video

"I feel super great about having an abortion," she says.

Philadelphia actress Emily Letts had an abortion and filmed it for the Internet to see, as she has documented in her new Cosmopolitan essay. (For a parody of Letts’ abortion video, see this.) Here, she talks about her abortion video and the firestorm that it has created. Note: Letts works as a counselor at the Cherry Hill Women’s Center, which performs abortions.

I don’t remember the last time I saw a Facebook flamewar over abortion, a topic that it seems like everyone was arguing about in the ’90s. So congratulations if your goal was to start a conversation.

That was my goal. My goal was also to reach the women who needed it. During the 2000s, abortion was political and only political. We’re forgetting the faces of the women involved, and we’re forgetting to have empathy for the women going through it.

When people think about abortion, they think about people waving signs, death threats, doctors dying. You don’t see the women, you don’t see the 1 in 3 women who will have an abortion. You don’t see positive abortion stories.

And you see your abortion story as a positive one.

Yes, I don’t have any guilt. I feel like the reason people are going crazy over my story is because they want it. Women and men have been thirsting for something like this. You don’t have to feel guilty. I feel super great about having an abortion, because it was the right decision for my life.

When I wrote about your video yesterday, I expected two reactions: pro-life people calling you evil — well, one of my Facebook friends called you a “bitch” — and pro-choice people rallying around you, giving you a pat on the back. Both of those things happened. 

But there was this third category of reaction: women who self-identify as pro-choice criticizing you for your abortion video. Some called the video “creepy,” some said it should have been kept private, some say that you were quite “glib.”

I would say that women can feel a whole spectrum of emotions about abortion, like being raped and coming out of the anesthesia after the procedure screaming, “He raped me, he raped me!” I’ve been with them; I’ve been in all the extreme cases. I know women who did not sleep for days and nights over making this decision. I know what it means to feel empty and lost after an abortion.

But here’s the thing. There are also women who feel completely confident about their decision, they feel relief. They don’t feel shame or fear, they feel relief. Abortion and relief, let’s put those two words together.

But you do understand that there’s a huge segment of the population that looks at you as a murderer, that you have destroyed life that God created? You can’t deny that this was at least potential life, and that you ended it.

Yes, I do realize it was potential life. I have a special relationship with my ultrasound. People say it sounds weird, it’s my process. I realize it was potential life, and I love it in my own special way. I’m not glib and cavalier. I’m comfortable with my decisions.

I’ve dealt with hundreds of women who have said they have not been able to share their stories for years. Women in my own family have come forward and said, “I had an abortion 30 years ago. My mother told me, ‘Don’t speak about this to anyone. People will judge you and say things negative about you.'”

Why are we not talking about how this affects us? Why are we still being shamed into silence. I will not be shamed into silence. That’s what this video is about.

What about the other major criticism that has come from many women who are pro-choice, that …

That I had unsafe sex? That I had sex without a condom?

Yes, and that here you are, counseling women about their reproductive choices, when many see you as irresponsible in your own decisions.

It’s been an unexpected departure from what I thought I was going to talk about. I’m not quite sure what people want me to say.

I wasn’t on hormonal birth control, and I wasn’t consistently sexually active. I wasn’t super interested in putting hormones in my body. I tried to get an IUD five years ago, but it was like $600.

So, yes, I am a sex educator, and I didn’t use a condom. Yeah. Absolutely. How many times did you do something that you knew had consequences but you did it anyway? How many times did you not wear your bike helmet? How many times did you get in a car with someone who had been drinking?

It was a mistake to not use a condom. Life is full of mistakes. It happens.

Tell me about your work at the Cherry Hill Women’s Center.

I’m a patient advocate, and I speak with all the women who come to our clinic, I talk to them about the decision. I give them all of the facts about abortion, adoption and birth — their reproductive choices. I’ve told women that they need more time. I’ve said, “Honey, you are not ready to make this decision. You can’t just make it out of convenience.”

I have had women talk with me for hours about the abortion decision. We decide she’s not ready, and I’ve had awesome instances where she comes back the next day and hugs me and says, “I’m going to have this baby!” And I cry with them out of joy. I don’t care what women choose. I just care that they are confident and feel positive about their decision, as I did. Why am I not allowed to share this with the world?

Given the reaction to your video, do you think that you might come off as insensitive, especially to all of those people who believe fervently that life begins at conception?

Trust me. I counsel women on grief and loss all the time. You feel very much like you’re saying goodbye, a feeling of emptiness, a feeling of giving up an idea. I’ve talked to extreme Catholics who say, “One month ago, I would have been picketing, but here I am now.” She’s seen those two pink lines and her breath is sucked out of her body. You cannot judge. But our culture does not value empathy. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Your religion cannot rule over everyone else.

How has your safety been since this story went viral?

Fine, I mean … A lot of my loved ones are asking if I am safe. There’s a lot of negative. I woke up to an email this morning that began, “You slutty cunt.” OK, cool. I deleted it. There’s a lot of cruelty, a lot of misinformation, a lot of negative false assumptions.

But so far, my safety has not been an issue, and if it becomes one, I will take it in stride. But I won’t stop shouting, I won’t change the message at all. We’ve been silent long enough.

Follow @VictorFiorillo on Twitter.

[PHOTO: Reggie Fisher]