As the #youknowme movement takes off, I'm reminded of my project that I created with Jennifer Baumgardner more than ten years ago, about women activists who had abortions. This photo series is still relevant today as many find abortion a taboo subject, and won't talk about their experiences.
I wanted the series to be straightforward so that the simplicity of the women's portraits would standout. This is not a faceless issue. I wanted the viewer to see these women's incredible stories behind the t-shirt. Among the portraits is one of my own mother. The goal is to spark discussion and debate, and not just between people that already hold similar views. This is an issue that is a part of us all. And by speaking up, and telling our stories, we make abortion a less confrontational topic in American society.
Please share your stories and let's start talking.
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Florence Rice, 86 (at the time the photo was taken), was raised in the foster care system in NYC. She saw her mother only a handful of times throughout her childhood. When she got pregnant as a young single woman in the 1930’s she decided to have the baby. A few years later as a working single mother, she found herself pregnant again and knew that she didn’t want to be like her mother, unable to take care of the child, so she had an abortion. She got a serious infection afterwards from her illegal, unclean abortion. In 1969 when feminists began speaking out about their abortions, Florence was one of the first to do so. Her story underscored a class divide: richer women got safer abortions, poorer women were more likely to end up at a butcher.
Liberty Aldrich And Joe Saunders
Liberty Aldrich and Joe Saunders with their sons. Liberty and Joe had an abortion together early in their relationship, stayed together and eventually had two sons when their lives were better equipped to have children.
Jenny Egan, 25 (at the time the photo was taken), was raised in a rural Oregan town in a Morman family. When she was 16 she got pregnant by her boyfriend from sex that was not totally consensual. After the abortion, which she had without telling her family, her parents received a letter from a group called the Brotherhood informing them of her procedure. Her mother was horrified and ordered her to leave the house.
Sebastiana Correa, 28 (at the time the photo was taken), got pregnant as a foreign exchange grad student in Connecticut. Signficantly Sebasitan’s mother is an ardent pro-life activist who runs an orphanage for the children of unwed mothers in Brazil. As scared as Sebastiana was, her first thought when she found out she was pregnant, was “thank God I’m in America where I can have a legal abortion”.
Holly Fritz, 35 (at the time the photo was taken), got pregnant living at home as a high school student in Buffalo, NY. She just assumed that she should get married to her boyfriend and embark on a life not unlike her mother’s who also had gotten pregnant by her high school sweetheart, got married, and had Holly. When Holly turned to her mother for advice, she was surprised that her mother urged her to have an abortion, rather than a shotgun wedding. Holly is now a high school teacher in NYC, married, and is the mother of a toddler, Zoe, pictured in the photograph with her.
Barbara, 64 (at the time the photo was taken), has had two abortions and two children. She is a grandmother, best selling author and columinist. Her column “Owning Up To Abortion”, published last summer in the NY Times op-ed section was part of the idea that sparked my project. In the article, she writes: “Honesty begins at home, so I should acknowledge that I had two abortions during my all-too-fertile years…Choice can be easy, as it was in my case, or truly agonizing…But assuming the fetal position is not an appropriate response. Sartre called this “bad faith,” meaning something worse than duplicity: a fundamental denial of freedom and the responsibility that it entails. Time to take your thumbs out of your mouths, ladies, and speak up for your rights. The freedoms that we exercise but do not acknowledge are easily taken away.”
Gloria Steinem, 71 (at the time the photo was taken), entered the feminist movement the day she covered Red Stockings abortion speak-out for New York magazine, and finally owned the abortion she had had several years earlier. She describes her abortion as the first time she acted in her own life, rather than let things happen to her. She had her abortion when she was 22. Gloria went on to found several pro-choice organizations, including Voters for Choice and Ms. Magazine and considers reproductive freedom to be the most significant contribution of the 2nd wave
A’yen Tran, 25 (at the time the photo was taken), was raised by a single mother in a progressive NYC household. During her teenage years she had a “radical” boyfriend who was emotionally and sexually abusive, and isolated A’yen from her community. She got pregnant, and began waking up to how bad her relationship was. She had a methotrexate abortion and a few days later spoke publicly about it at a Judson Church event emulating the 1969 speak-outs. Even though she is a self-identified abortion activist, she was surprised by how hard it was to talk in personal terms about abortion.
Jennifer And Gillian
Jennifer and Gillian –Jennifer, 35 (at the time the photo was taken), left, journalist and activist, has written about abortion for more than a decade. She was frustrated that all the reporting on the issue, including her own, devovled into a “debate” between pro-life and pro-choice forces. She felt that what was being lost were the voices and faces of people that had abortions. In 2003 she started making t-shirts, resource cards, and working on a film that put the spotlight back on the women. Gillian and Jennifer have been close friends since they lived together in Boluder, CO in 1992. Gillian, 36, had an abortion in 2000 with the man who was to later become her husband and with whom she now has a daughter. She is also a film maker, and Jennifer asked her to direct a film on women’s abortions stories from the campagin. They collaborated, and the result is “Speak out: I had an abortion” film.
Rosalyn Baxandall, 65 (at the time the photo was taken), had an abortion in the 1960s and then again when she thought she was in menopause. She was the first speaker at the famed Redstockings abortion speakout in 1969.
Loretta Ross, 51 (at the time the photo was taken), is a major figure in the reproductive justice movement. She is the co-author of Undivided Rights and organized women of color for the 2004 March for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C., an event that brought unprecedented support from communities of color. She got pregnant in high school and had the son, losing a scholarship to Radcliffe in the process. At a student at Howard University in 1970 she found herself pregnant again. In D.C., abortion was legal, but Loretta needed her mother’s signature in order to have the procedure. Her mother refused and Loretta ended up forging her signature and having a very late term abortion.