The I Had an Abortion Project
“The I Had an Abortion project had many inspirations. Some were conversations I kept having with second wave feminists on this listserv called History-In-Action, where the women would talk about how infuriating it was that their experiences of abortion—often trauma-free and liberating—were not part of the media presentation or common understanding of the issue. Some were conversations with my frequent writing partner, Amy Richards, who is brave and open about her experiences with abortion. The final inspiration was frustration with how activists (myself included) yell loudly about abortion rights, but rarely place ourselves in the issue. What experiences have pro-choice and pro-life leaders and senators and congresspeople personally had with abortion?
Frustration with the yelling and the lack of personal stakes in reporting on this issue led me to want to approach it only personally—get right to the women and their stories, their faces and their lives, and get away from their political opinions. Thus, this is a pro-abortion rights project that is most concerned with creating space for women and men to speak honestly about their lives and their abortion experiences.”
In 2004 activist and filmaker Jennifer Baumgardner produced a film, t-shirts, and a photo exhibit addressing the controversial topic of abortion within U.S. Society. Baumgardner photographed 10 women including prominent feminist figure Gloria Steinem wearing these shirts in order to bring light to the struggles that everyday women and men have encountered due to abortion. I see this project not only as an activist performance but also and artistic one through the mediums of film, photography, and the use of everyday people as living art. Like many artists in turbulence political and social climates, Baumgardner used film, photography and everyday life to illustrate that everyday people are effected and connected to political and social issues. The I Had an Abortion Project thrusts a controversial issue into the stage of public life with the use of clothing as a communication medium.
Baumgardner’s project, like the bold projects of Valie Export and other post-WWII Neo-Avant Garde artists, was bold and propostitional. It really caused its audience to ponder the complexity of social and political issues, and realize how experiences or concepts that are often taboo are also commonplace and effect many different people from all walks of life.
Even though this project took place in 2004, the subject of abortion remains extremely prominent in the world of politics today, especially during the last election and the War on Women. I think it’s important to look at how even in nations which proclaim themselves as free, there still remains much stigma and bias, especially in regard to women’s rights. The I Had an Abortion Project is just another example throughout the history of art and art activism of the impact and critique that art and performance can have on the current political and social climates.
You can visit the website for the film and see images and more, here.