Despite its puny 140-character-count, the tweet packs an emotional punch: “I’m in a board meeting. Having a miscarriage. Thank goodness, because there’s a fucked-up 3-week hoop-jump to have an abortion in Wisconsin.” It appeared in my Twitter feed earlier this week and stopped me in my page-skimming tracks. It was startling given the intensely personal subject matter and matter-of-fact tone — and even more so because it wasn’t broadcast by an anonymous someone hiding behind a screen name. It came from Penelope Trunk, a writer who dishes out work advice as well as tales of attempts at balancing her own career and personal life. Having a miscarriage in a board meeting certainly falls within her beat.
Many people didn’t see it that way, though. Commenters on her blog called the tweet callous, while others deemed it an over-share. One said it was “unconscionable” to be “happy to have a miscarriage, even if you were getting an abortion.” A blogger expressed outrage that Trunk didn’t have her tubes tied “since she is sexually active and doesn’t want more kids.” After a few days of being excoriated for those three sentences dashed off in the middle of a meeting, Trunk addressed the controversy in a new blog post: “Not only have bloggers written whole posts about the disgustingness of it, but 70 people unfollowed me, and people actually came to my blog and wrote complaints about the twitter on random, unrelated posts.”
Trunk wasn’t so much surprised that the tweet was a conversation starter as she was by the particular conversation it sparked. “It is absolutely outrageous how difficult it was going to be for me to get an abortion, and it’s outrageous that no one is outraged.” Wisconsin has a 24-hour waiting period for abortions and only three clinics that are covered by insurance, which “puts a huge burden on an overworked system,” she explains. “In Wisconsin, there is a week and a half wait to get the first meeting and a week and half wait to get the abortion.” Talk about “callous” and “unconscionable.” Many women experience relief at having a miscarriage when they find they are unwittingly pregnant, and I can only imagine the relief would be twofold when you otherwise would have to wait three weeks to obtain an abortion.
Interestingly enough, Truck had a miscarriage in 2003 that she also wrote about. Only the situation was very different: This was a baby she very much wanted to have. In a post titled “Sometimes Work Is a Welcome Distraction,” she tersely explained: “I am four months pregnant. But the baby is dead, inside me, and must be removed. I am devastated. I always knew this could happen, in the back of my mind. But you are never prepared for something like this to happen.” The post continued in a brusque style comparable to that of her recent tweet — both announced a miscarriage in a matter-of-fact way on the public stage, but only one got under people’s skin. There is surely a difference in the formats (a tweet versus a lengthy blog post) but also in her reaction to the miscarriage: When she responded with grief, it wasn’t deemed inappropriate but when she expressed what seemed to be shell-shocked relief, it was.
So, how much of the outrage has to do with the personal nature of the tweet and how much has to do with the supposed inappropriateness of her response? Judging from the number of pro-life comments in response to her blog post on the matter, I suspect it skews toward the latter.