NYT Urges Abortion-Rights Supporters to 'Make Their Voices Heard.' The Real Question: What Should They Be Saying?

"Americans who support women's reproductive rights need to make their voices heard," The New York Times editorial opined yesterday. Noting the number of state legislatures debating bills that would significantly limit a woman's access to abortion—notably Utah's ban on "illegal abortions" and the proposed pre-viability ban in Nebraska—the Times editorial board urged supporters of abortion rights to take a more active role in the debate.

As a reporter who watches the abortion-rights movement every day, the Times's call to arms struck me as unfounded. The Center for Reproductive Rights and RH Reality Check have done plenty to raise the specter on these issues. The ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project is defending against the proposed Nebraska law; a reproductive health group in Georgia has issued an action alert regarding the much talked-about billboards linking race and abortion.

Rather than urging activists to speak up, the more interesting pro-choice issue these days is the debate over what ought to be said. Angie Jackson pushed the discussion to the forefront late last month when she live-tweeted her abortion. Three weeks after it happened, pro-choice activists are enmeshed in disagreement over whether her voice being heard was a good thing.

The latest take comes from Mary Ann Sorrentino, a former Planned Parenthood executive director who was excommunicated from the Catholic Church for her support of abortion rights. The essay, published Tuesday at Salon, is the harshest criticism of Jackson that I have seen from an abortion-rights supporter:

We wanted a woman to be able to make personal decisions about their pregnancies in the privacy of their most intimate circles—her partner, family, closest friends, physician and religious advisors, if she so chose. Or, she could decide as a panel of one and discuss it with no one.

Angie Jackson has the right to choose to take RU-486 and then write about her cramps, her bleeding, and the eventual expulsion of the products of conception on the Internet. But many of us who have spent our lives on the front lines of the abortion debate also have the right to hate the fact that she chose to do this.

Reporting my story on Jackson's tweeting, I constantly heard a different refrain from younger abortion-rights advocates: the pro-choice movement has failed to grapple with the emotional complexities of abortion in a publicly meaningful way. In order for the movement to progress, they would tell me, we need to embrace the complexities; Jackson was a part of that. Sorrentino offers a counterpoint to these younger activists: the abortion right she fought for was a private one, not meant for social networks to peep in on. She suggests that abortion rights are, in a way, impaired or harmed by such bluntness.

The next few weeks will be an interesting experiment in this arena, given the number of anti-abortion bills I mentioned earlier. When activists in Nebraska, for example, push back at an attempt to ban abortions at 20 weeks, will there be interest in opening a discussion of the emotional complexities of later-term abortion? Or will they focus on the more clear-cut facts: that an abortion at this stage in the pregnancy, pre-viability, still remains within the woman's right to choose, as defined by Roe v. Wade and reaffirmed in numerous other cases? I think pro-choice activists are going to find it increasingly difficult to invest time in these more-emotional, less-straightforward conversations about what the abortion experience is like and, as their movement has done before, side with Sorrentino on the issue of which voices ought to be heard.