Suffrage in the Age of the Hashtag

How writer Jen Deaderick took inspiration from Occupy Wall Street, founded the #UseThe19th campaign, and mobilized women across all social platforms to fight for reproductive rights.

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Not long ago, the words "transvaginal ultrasound" were unlikely to be mentioned outside of a medical clinic. The procedure involves inserting into the vagina an exploratory probe, which uses sound waves to produce an image on a computer screen. Issues which might necessitate the examination include internal pathologies, fertility concerns, and troubled pregnancies. It is an important diagnostic tool that helps innumerable women every day.

The war over legalized abortion has been fought in many places, from courtrooms to capitol buildings, and billboards to street rallies. Metaphorically, it's always been waged in women's bodies. But new legislation weaponizing the transvaginal ultrasound wand help wage the war there quite literally.

Is it possible to imagine a more wrenching decision than whether or not to terminate an unborn child? Though the course of American culture often seems to be on a fixed and perpetual descent, the notion of the "casual abortion" is a myth. And yet representatives seem prepared to think the very least of their constituents, and determined to enforce the kind of state-sponsored shaming unseen since 17th-century New England. To be sure, ultrasounds are often administered before abortions are performed. But a physician makes that call. It is, after all, a medical decision. These mandates from the state have no relation to the patient's well-being. Just the opposite, in fact. They are about inflicting guilt when a woman is most vulnerable.

The war over legalized abortion has been fought in many places, from courtrooms to capitol buildings, and billboards to street rallies. Metaphorically, it's always been waged in women's bodies.

The velocity with which these laws now seem to meteor down from state houses suggest a malevolent recklessness by lawmakers. When these men are confronted, their often audacious responses defy comment. To vilify Tom Corbett, governor of Pennsylvania, is to do him a service. Villainy, at least, suggests thought. His favored bill (now moribund, it seems) actually compels doctors by law to point the ultrasound monitor at the patient. When asked by a reporter about the sadistic requirement, his grinning suggestion to women: "You just have to close your eyes."

Such was the environment when Jen Deaderick decided to fix things. Or rather, to mobilize women to fix things, using a power they already have. "The simplest thing for women to do isn't to march, or boycott," she said. "It's to vote. To use their hard-fought right to make change."

Deaderick, a writer living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is founder of the #UseThe19th campaign. It encourages women to take advantage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees women's suffrage. She enlisted help from journalists Dahlia Lithwick, Lizzie Skurnick, and Rebecca Traister, and the group introduced #UseThe19th to Twitter on March 1, to mark the beginning of Women's History Month.

The idea is simple. When posting news of particularly discouraging legislation to Twitter, append #UseThe19th to the back of it as a way of reminding women that such laws and such politicians are not permanent, and that women themselves are the vehicle for change. "I wanted something that would remind women to vote, and also evoke our history of activism," said Deaderick. "And I wanted it to be easy, and visual. So, that's why it's a hashtag."

Presented by

David W. Brown is the coauthor of The Command: Deep Inside the President's Secret Army and Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry. Generally published under the pseudonym D.B. Grady, Brown is a graduate of Louisiana State University, a former U.S. Army paratrooper, and a veteran of Afghanistan. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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