February 9, 2023

Since Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision guaranteeing the right to abortion, was overturned in the United States, dozens of proponents have turned to TikTok to try to help people in states where abortion has become illegal. But they don’t use the word “abortion” outright, opting for coded language like “camping” or “going on a trip.” However, our Observer, who works for an abortion rights organization, says these videos can be harmful despite their good intentions.

“Camping is still legal in Virginia […] I’ll do anything to help you.” Since Roe v. Wade was overthrown on June 24, such messages circulate widely on TikTok. But they have nothing to do with camping. Instead, the creators of these videos unobtrusively offer their assistance to those seeking abortions who live in states where they do. forbidden.

On TikTok, the videos follow a formula: A person looks at the camera in silence, while text on the screen indicates that he or she is ready to help those who want to “go camping”, “see their family” or “learn how to knit” in a neighboring state or even in Canada.

The videos are accompanied by The Chainsmokers’ song “Paris” and end with the lyrics “When we go down, we go down together“. The song has become an anthem of solidarity among abortion rights advocates on the social network.

This online solidarity is so strong that on social networks “camping” has become a synonym for “abortion”. The message is mainly aimed at people who live in states where abortion is banned or will soon be banned.

Nevertheless, some people who work in pro-choice and abortion rights organizations in the United States say that this kind of code language can do more harm than good.

‘People seeking help with an abortion may be missing the message’

Max Carwile is a member of the Abortion Access Fund, an organization that fights nationally for abortion rights. She lives in Tennessee, a state that is about to introduce an abortion ban. She told the FRANCE 24 Observers team that using coded language on TikTok may not be the best option if you really want to help someone who wants an abortion.

Most people who use this coded language are doing it to help, and I think they think anti-abortion people won’t find their posts. But it has become so common that people following this topic know exactly what “camping” means.

But people seeking abortion help may not be familiar with the language associated with the pro-choice community. Therefore, they may not understand what it means and can easily overlook the message.

But these messages can be used to encourage people who know these codes. But I think it’s important to use the word “abortion” because it helps to destigmatize it.

The people who use the coded language are putting the cart before the horse and anticipating that it will be dangerous to use the correct terms. Right now, legally, nothing can happen to you if you help someone have an abortion.

But in some states, like Texas, that could soon be illegal. But even then, if you only offer to help, no one can say anything. It’s more like saying, “I expelled someone from Texas to have an abortion.”

But I think we need to make sure that these kinds of laws never come into effect.

In Texas, some lawmakers have argued that the state can criminalize anyone who… “provides the resources” for an abortion, even if it takes place out of state. The group of conservative lawmakers also outlined future legislation that would allow individuals to sue for helping a Texan have an abortion financially.

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Similar accounts has been proposed in Arkansas and Missouri.

‘It is not always clear who is behind these messages’

The US and Canadian TikTokers offer to help people “go camping” goes as far as offering accommodation or money to pay for travel expenses for people who have to leave the state to have an abortion.

In a similar vein, many groups have sprung up on other social media networks to organize solidarity actions, such as The Auntie Network on reddit and Facebook.

Carwile continued:

This coded language creates a gray area and it is not always clear who is behind these messages. The people who offer their help may very well be lying about their intentions. It’s the same problem [for the online solidarity networks that emerged in late June]. I’m happy to see this solidarity, but we can’t have complete certainty about people online. You don’t know if people really want to help or if they’re trying to catch you. There can be a lot of risk. People who are against abortion may want to use these networks to reach people who are trying to get an abortion.

>> Read more about The Observers: How ‘fake clinics’ mislead people who want to have abortions in the US

‘Most of these people sincerely believe they are helping’

Many professionals working in the sector are also concerned about the inexperience of people who offer their help on social media, which in some cases can put people who want to have an abortion at risk.

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For example, people have warned about the success of some TikTok videos herbal alternatives to induce abortion. Carwile explained:

These remedies [shared on TikTok] are not medically safe. What we need to do is advise and advocate for people to take safe abortion pills, which can be prescribed remotely and sent by post [Editor’s note: the delivery of abortion medications by mail is legal in most states but still an uncertain grey area in the US].

People [seeking abortions] are scared right now, so they will take all the help they can get. And many people want to offer every possible help. I think most of these people genuinely believe they are helping.

But they are not professionals. The best thing to do is to message people close to you and let them know you can help them if they need it. People should also seek out their own abortion organizations that are aware of privacy issues and know the laws. People need to seek help through abortion funds and organizations, and we need to respond before it gets worse.