‘A right is not what someone gives you; it’s what no one can take from you’
- Ramsey Clark.
Denying women access to safe abortion information is inherently denying them access to life-saving information. And yet, on January 15th of last week, YouTube did exactly that by deleting video channels run by Women On Waves, Women on Web, and Como Hacerse Un Aborto.
So why did YouTube shut down channels from these organizations? In an explanation issued to Como Hacerse Un Aborto, YouTube cited their Community Guidelines. Though they did not specify in writing which Guideline was violated, it was believed that YouTube categorized the safe abortion information as “harmful or dangerous content.”
In fact, YouTube had the situation backwards. Both Mifepristone and Misoprostol- the two medications used during a medical abortion- have been included in the WHO’s List of Essential Medicines since 2005. A growing body of research also suggests that women who manage their own abortions outside of a clinical setting are at no greater risk for complications, provided they have access to accurate information.
Additionally, in September of 2017, the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute published a joint study in the Lancet calling for increased accessibility to safe abortion options. Currently, over 25 million unsafe abortions occur around the world each year.
So while YouTube may have classified videos about safe abortion as “dangerous content”, their censorship was the true threat to women’s health.
In response to YouTube’s actions, Women On Web struck back quickly. They immediately filed a complaint with the company, began assessing their legal options, and posted widely about the ongoing situation.
Though YouTube has now restored the channels for both Women On Web and Women on Waves, Como Hacerse Un Aborto is still under censorship.
The unjust (and frankly, misinformed) actions of Youtube against Women On Web, Women on Waves, and Como Hacerse Un Aborto is a frightening example of gender-based censorship that disparages a woman’s rights, her bodily autonomy and most importantly, her right to choose.
Social media giants have the power to elevate reproductive rights advocacy, but have succumbed instead to playing politics with women’s lives. They shroud their discriminatory actions behind ‘policy revisions’ that are haphazardly applied and further restrict access to safe abortion information. These restrictions are particularly dangerous when applied to women and girls living in areas of the world where access to safe abortion options are most restrictive.
Oftentimes, online safe abortion organizations- like HowToUse- provide these women with their only safe and reliable source of information. When deprived of these resources, women will often resort to unsafe options- like witchdoctors, herbal concoctions, or the insertion of foreign objects.
Organizations like Women on Web and Como Hacerse Un Aborto ensure that all women, especially the most vulnerable, can regain control of their bodies, lives and overall health so that no woman is ever forced to put her life at risk by seeking out an unsafe abortion.
Gender-based censorship allows patriarchal, religious and political oppressors to flourish while greatly setting back a movement that has fought long and hard to defend the rights of women all over the world.
Safe abortion partners should not let this cowardly act of censorship intimidate or deter them. Access to safe abortion information is intrinsically linked to a women’s self-determination and the achievement of her full potential.
To safe abortion advocates: let us use this as a rally cry to band together and continue empowering women with easily accessible and accurate information that will protect their bodies, health and well-being.
To social media giants: we hope that you take some time to critically reflect on the implications of this censorship. We are happy to provide you with the necessary information and/or trainings that will hopefully bring about a much-needed attitude shift regarding abortion.
And most importantly, to all the women out there: do not be silenced; unite and continue to have each other’s backs. Be fearless and unapologetic as you demand autonomy over your own body.
HowToUse pledges to continue normalizing the discourse around abortion; to continue addressing the public health risks so deeply embedded in restricted abortion access; and to continue making safe abortion information as visible as possible to women around the world.