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Instagram has banned a pro-choice abortion pills filter
Courtesy Women on Waves

Instagram has banned a pro-choice filter featuring abortion pills

The platform refused to approve a virtual version of a crown made out of the medication

Instagram has censored a pro-choice filter designed in support of women’s right to access free abortion pills. The filter is a virtual version of jewellery designer Eva van Kempen’s Lady Liberty, which is a recreation of the Statue of Liberty crown made out of abortion pill packets. On Instagram, when the user opens their mouth, the words ‘liberate abortion pills’ appear and the medication is released from the crown.

Created by augmented reality artist Chloe Karayiannis in collaboration with pro-choice organisation Women on Waves, the filter was set to launch today (March 4) to mark the start of a Supreme Court hearing into the future of abortion access in the US.

According to a press release, Instagram did not approve the filter, claiming that “the effect is not suitable for the Instagram general user base (including those aged 13 and above)”. Also, the platform does not allow content promoting pharmaceutical products. Women on Waves assert that by refusing to display the face filter, Instagram is violating “the right to freedom of information” and “the freedom of expression”.

Speaking to Dazed, van Kempen says she believes Instagram actually banned the filter “because abortion is a taboo”, adding that the effect’s intention was to “normalise abortion” as well as raising awareness about the current struggles in the US. 

Katherine O’Brien, a spokesperson for BPAS, agrees, telling Dazed: “Too often abortion is viewed as a ‘contentious’ issue, rather than as the medical procedure that it is. One in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime, and abortion pills have been included on the World Health Organisation’s list of essential medication since 2005. It may be that Instagram felt, wrongly, that in allowing this filter they could be seen to be ‘picking one side or the other’ – but in banning it they have done just that. Regardless of the arguments of the anti-choice minority, abortion is a fact of life; it shouldn’t be hidden away.”

Sister Supporter’s founder Anna Veglio-White believes that Instagram would think the abortion pills filter “would cause controversey”, though says that “the opposite is true” due to a pro-choice majority in the US. “It’s alarming that Instagram allows a lot of anti-choice rhetoric and paid activity to flood its channel,” Veglio-White tells Dazed, “but has chosen to take a stand against pro-choice messaging.”

Discussing the filter’s design, Women on Waves said: “The statue (of Liberty), an icon of freedom and of the United States, was a gift from the French, and the French also invented the abortion pill. An abortion with pills at home is very safe and has the same health impact as a spontaneous miscarriage. In countries like the US, access to abortion pills is extremely restricted, and research shows that the cost of the abortion, distance to the clinic, obligations from childcare, work, and school, psychiatric illnesses, domestic violence, and concerns about privacy cause severe obstacles to access abortion care. By making abortion pills available in pharmacies like any other safe medicine, the obstacles to access abortion services can be solved.”

“Regardless of the arguments of the anti-choice minority, abortion is a fact of life; it shouldn’t be hidden away” – Katherine O’Brien, BPAS

Today, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that would technically maintain Roe v. Wade (a 1973 Supreme Court ruling that protected abortion rights) but could result in severe new abortion restrictions. The case centres on a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital – the exact same law that was found unconstitutional three years ago in Texas. In 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that this law did nothing to protect women’s health, and instead illegally restricted abortion law. But with a new conversative majority, the court’s decision could be different this time around.

Under Donald Trump’s cruel administration, 2019 saw a wave of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in decades, with many bills banning abortion at six weeks – before most women even know they’re pregnant – becoming law in Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, and Mississippi, while Alabama banned abortion completely.

Writing on Instagram, van Kempen said “freedom is likely to become a luxury in the US” following the case, adding that her Lady Liberty crown “fits us all”. In an attempt to boycott IG’s rejection of her filter, van Kempen tells Dazed: “We ask people to use the face filter via my Facebook page here, and then share videos of themselves with it on Instagram.”

“In a world where choice is conditional and directly linked to your location, the borderless nature of Instagram is crucial in reaching people all over the world who may not be able to access accurate information on abortion” – Anna Veglio-White, Sister Supporter

Discussing the importance of social media in relation to abortion rights, O’Brien concludes: “Pro-choice campaigns on social media have made a real impact to women’s access to reproductive healthcare services. We have seen major high street pharmacies drop the price of emergency contraception in response to outcry online, and we also know that social media is a vital tool in smashing the stigma that is sadly still associated with abortion. At a time of growing concern about mental wellbeing, it makes no sense to further stigmatise a vital aspect of women’s healthcare. We should be opening up discussions about reproductive choice, not closing them down.”

Veglio-White adds: “In a world where choice is conditional and directly linked to your location, the borderless nature of Instagram is crucial in reaching people all over the world who may not be able to access accurate information on abortion. It creates an important space to educate and connect, and if Instagram begins to censor this, they deny people access to vital information that they may not be able to access where they live.”  

Eva van Kempen’s Lady Liberty is on display from March 11 to 15 at Munich’s NUDA VITA exhibition. Find out more info here.