In Praise of Public Abortions

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
March 11 2010 5:32 PM

In Praise of Public Abortions

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In Salon, Mary Ann Sorrentino writes that Angie Jackson’s live-tweeted abortion makes a mockery of the right to choose-fought with tears and placards-and finally won under the 14 th Amendment’s "right to privacy." Here at DoubleX , Amanda Marcotte skewered Sorrentino's "I'm pro-choice, but ..." argument, which attempts to shame Jackson for broadcasting her reproductive tumult. As Marcotte writes, Sorrentino's piece falls into the conventional shame-speak, which paints abortion as a necessary evil-a traumatic decision that is quietly and embarrassingly endured.

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Abortion, however, can be a positive good. I learned this lesson two years ago, when Aliza Shvarts repeatedly inseminated herself for nine months with a syringe, took herbal abortifacients, filmed her induced miscarriages on a VHS camcorder, and collected the blood for her Yale senior art project.

Shvarts planned to project the footage onto a large suspended cube wrapped in hundreds of feet of plastic wrap with her blood sealed in its layers. "I believe strongly that art should be a medium for politics and ideologies," Shvarts said, "not just a commodity."

The world was unhappy with Shvarts. Radical pro-lifers sent bomb threats. Yale College Dean Peter Salovey, in an act of public-relations desperation, called Shvarts’ entire project a piece of fictional performance art . Pro-choice activists condemned Shvarts for abusing her right to choose, trivializing abortion, and fuelling anti-choice sentiments. People painted Shvarts as a deranged baby-killer or morally bereft attention-hound, stripping her uterus for kicks. By campus consensus, whatever Shvarts was doing, it was unethical.

But once I got over the initial visceral discomfort, I couldn't agree. Like many pro-choicers, I don't believe an embryo is a human life for the same reason I don't believe a sperm or an egg is. Potential life, in my definition, is not life. The point at which life begins is at a much later stage of gestation, which should be decided by obstetricians, gynecologists, and philosophers.

Abortion also isn’t simply justified by its legal protection of "right to privacy." Denying a woman her right to choose is sex discrimination: Burdening women with unplanned pregnancies leads to systemic economic, social and psychological gender inequalities.

Shvarts’ project, as gruesome as it may be, was a celebration, not an insult, of the right to choose. Jackson’s micro-blogged bleeding also broke through the secrecy and shame that cloaks abortion rhetoric. Public abortions force pro-choicers to clarify their positions on the right they often unthinkingly defend. Aliza Shvarts exhibited a different piece at London’s Tate Modern after she graduated, and Jackson might score a book deal. May these women continue to challenge the silence of women’s reproductive issues, so we never rest on the murky philosophizing of "I'm pro-choice, but ..."

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