Advice columnist’s tweet: Too much information?

2009-10-01T23:40:00Z Advice columnist’s tweet: Too much information?Dee J. Hall | 608-252-6132 | dhall@madison.com madison.com

Madison-based workplace advice columnist Penelope Trunk sent a message on Twitter late last month while having a miscarriage of her unwanted pregnancy during a meeting of her company's board.

"I'm in a board meeting. Having a miscarriage. Thank goodness," Trunk tweeted to her 19,000 followers, "because there's a (expletive) 3-week hoop-jump to have an abortion in Wisconsin."

In exactly 140 characters, Trunk, of Middleton, ignited a wide-ranging debate on TV and in cyberspace:

How much personal information is too much for a mass audience?

To what extent should health information be shared at work?

And are abortion, unwanted pregnancy and miscarriage topics too weighty to be carried on a three-line tweet?

Trunk has taken some heat, including in comments on her blog, blog.penelopetrunk.com, expressing outrage about her cavalier attitude toward the death of the fetus she was carrying.

To those who take offense -- there were 70 people who stopped following her on Twitter -- Trunk is unapologetic.

"I think it's ridiculous people don't talk about it. That's why abortion rights are being eroded in Wisconsin," said Trunk, president of The Brazen Careerist, a company that runs a social networking service for 20-somethings looking for jobs. "I've had two abortions. I've posted about it on my blog. It was really gut-wrenching. I was really upset."

Trunk said that because of the wait at the local Planned Parenthood clinic, she was forced to make an appointment for an abortion in Chicago, 160 miles away.

Trunk said she felt "insulted" by the state law requirement that she receive counseling and wait at least 24 hours before having an abortion. Twenty-three other states have similar requirements, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that works in areas of sexual and reproductive health.

Chris Taylor, public policy director for Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin, said with just four abortion clinics in the state, women often have a hard time arranging an abortion. Nevertheless, she said her organization tries to see women for the mandatory counseling within a few days and perform the procedure within a week after that.

Trunk, 42, a divorced mother of two, said she believes staying silent about problems that affect women keeps them from being solved.

"One-third of women will have an abortion in their lifetime," she said, echoing figures from Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. "To say that is a private event is ridiculous.

"In the history of the world, every time people decided that something happening to a lot of women was private, it hurt women," Trunk added, mentioning problems including domestic violence and boredom in motherhood.

Taylor said that while abortion is a personal decision, public dialogue about it can be helpful.

"I do think women talking about their experience alerts us to the point that these things happen to people we know, people we love," Taylor said. "This is not the 'other' people who have abortions."

Trunk said she advises employees to be up-front about health problems that could affect their performance at work. (Her syndicated column appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal but was discontinued for unrelated reasons last month.)

Whether tweeting about abortion and miscarriage is treading into territory that's just too personal, Trunk said people have to find their own limits on what to share. Trunk's own blog posts and tweets cover a lot of personal ground, including her faltering marriage and her post-divorce love life.

She said one of her roles is to reinforce her "personal brand" as president of an edgy company. "It's part of my job to be in the press about having surprising views about the workplace ... but be able to vigorously defend my views," Trunk said.

So when she started feeling bad during the Sept. 21 board meeting, her first instinct was to tell the world.

"I knew I wanted to Twitter about my miscarriage. ... I didn't think it was interesting enough to say I was having a miscarriage at work," Trunk said, adding that it's not that unusual. "So I put together the problems I was having getting an abortion in Wisconsin."

If the aim was to get attention, Trunk got it: Her story has been picked up by cable and broadcast television, and dozens of comments have been posted on her blog.

She acknowledged the nationwide media attention and death threats she said she's gotten since the controversial tweet are "taking a toll."

Was it worth it?

"We all want to use our work to make the world a better place," Trunk said. "Hopefully I helped everyone to talk more about women's issues at work."

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