"The 'I had an abortion' T-shirts will do more harm to the pro-choice movement than good." Laura Barcella's article inspires personal stories -- and outrage.

Published September 22, 2004 7:00AM (EDT)

[Read "The A-word," by Laura Barcella]

The first time I heard about the "I had an abortion" T-shirts was during the Democratic National Convention. It was actually in a conservative political cartoon with the headline "Actual T-shirt seen at the Democratic Convention." This is how the shirt is going to be seen by many Americans. Many -- if not most -- Americans are going to be horrified by them. They will simply fuel thoughts about East Village liberals and how out of touch they are with the American mainstream, like the New Yorker back-page cartoon that featured conservative fantasies about liberals, including a coffee shop called Lattes & Abortions. I think that the majority of Americans support abortion rights. The "I had an abortion" T-shirts will be seen as trivializing what many people consider to be a serious and personal issue and will do more harm to the pro-choice movement than good.

-- Dale Ratner

While I am staunchly feminist and pro-choice, I was a bit concerned after reading Laura Barcella's article. It focuses decidedly on the women whose stories are very pro-abortion. As a woman who could've worn that shirt as a pro-choice statement but only with sadness, the thrust of the article seemed to deny that having an abortion can be very hard on a woman, even if it is simply the best thing for her to do. Can't someone be pro-choice yet still find the decision to have the procedure an agonizing one?

To shun someone who is trying to comfort you seems cold, as in the case of the woman with the boyfriend daring to mention heaven and baby post-abortion (it was his baby too; perhaps these were his truths). And to fill an article with "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" gives the anti-choice movement more fuel for their fire. It reinforces the negative stereotypes of women who have abortions as somewhat heartless. There are legions of women out there who have great sadness, yet no regrets, for having an abortion. We need to portray the spectrum of people and their emotions when dealing with these things. Maybe if the pro-choice movement showed a little more heart when telling the truth, we could get somewhere.

-- Shonti

If the purpose of the "I had an abortion" T-shirt is to inflame the pro-life folks and convince them that supporters of abortion are morally reprobate, then mission accomplished. And frankly, in this case, the pro-lifers may be right.

You don't have to be a conservative Christian to believe that human life in all its forms is sacred. Just because you have the legal right to terminate human life does not mean that you should do so with a smile on your face. Terminating a human life should only be done out of necessity, and with sadness. For example, which soldier has the most fully developed moral sense -- the one who returns home regretting that he was required to take the life of an enemy, or the soldier who returns home sporting an "I bagged a raghead" T-shirt?

Any woman who can have an abortion and smile about it has a morally defective worldview. Such an attitude does not reflect a healthy independence, but rather a ruthless independence fueled by moral blindness and indifference.

-- Jim Holman

The "I had an abortion" shirts were first created by Willem Velthoven for Women on Waves, in April 2003. They were publicized in 12 languages in the biennial exhibition in Thessaloniki, Greece in May and broadly publicized after that. The "I had an abortion" Web site and action were created by Jacob and Lisa, two students of Willem Velthoven at the art school in Berlin. During the visit with the ship of Women on Waves to Portugal, a group of young activists covered the streets of Lisbon with the "I had an abortion" tape in solidarity with the ship.

-- Rebecca Gomperts

At the age of 28, I chose to have an abortion, and have never felt a moment's regret. My boyfriend (now husband of five years) and I made the decision together. We knew we weren't ready, but what we didn't know was why we weren't ready. It wasn't a lack of commitment to each other, and it wasn't a complete lack of desire for children. It was a lack of desire for that particular child at that particular time. Neither of us were focused on what we wanted from life, but we knew we wanted something more, and that something more did not include a child. In the wake of the abortion we discussed our decision and came to have a renewed focus on ourselves and what we wanted out of our lives.

Several years later we have both completed our graduate education and are working in fields that are meaningful for us. It may seem odd, but I sort of consider that abortion our wakeup call; while I don't regret it, I do take it seriously and feel we did a profound thing, and committing myself to bettering my life was a response to the abortion. If my future was worth the killing of a fetus, then it was worth giving it all my attention and commitment.

-- Dana Abruzzio

I do not understand feminists embracing abortion so fanatically that they disregard and downplay the perils of abortion. Every single person having an abortion has one thing in common, unsafe sex. In the days of HIV and other life-threatening sexual diseases people should be doubling up on prevention, not relaxing with the fallback abortion safety net. There are worse things in life than unwanted pregnancies.

By embracing abortion and wearing these stupid T-shirts you are sending a message that sex has zero consequences. Would it be OK for gay men to wear "I bareback" T-shirts? No. Because it sends the wrong message about a very real crisis.

Abortions are less healthy than birth control and indict the person for more than the destruction of the fetus. They send a message that sexual irresponsibility has no repercussions and can be fixed in a "simple procedure."

Abortions should be in the closet, as should someone's lack of practicing safe sex. This is the one time where I can support a "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.

I know many people in Russia who can no longer have children because of multiple abortions. I know people with HIV/AIDS because of flying without a safety net. Sex in the modern world is as dangerous as it was before penicillin, when syphilis could cause dementia and death. Have we somehow forgotten that in our campaign to live a guilt-free existence?

I'm all for a quiet "choice" campaign wherein you have the right to make a bad choice, but promoting contraceptive abortions in the world of HIV/AIDS is reckless.

-- Tiffany Lach

I am a woman in my mid-30s, childless by choice, and I consider myself a feminist. Between my mother, who had an illegal abortion in the early 1960s, and the feminist movement of the 1970s, I was raised with the idea that the right to legal abortion was sacrosanct. However, my gut reaction while reading "The A-word" was outrage. One woman interviewed hopes that "as more women share their stories ... the stigma attached to abortion lessens just the tiniest bit," but I fear that strategy may backfire as it did with me. "If 1.3 million women in this country have one every year, it's gotta be normal." Excuse me?

I'm not in favor of eliminating abortion, and I never bought in to the right's propaganda that abortion is being used as birth control by irresponsible women. However, faced with numbers like those cited in this article, I confess it is hard not to wonder if that is what is going on. I'm not hearing these women talk about personal responsibility, but I do hear a whole lot about personal entitlement. If you are too young or not ready to have children then have enough respect for yourself not to have intercourse (I hear you gasp, but yes, this is an option!) and/or to use birth control. Take care of yourself and then you can concentrate on not being subsumed by a man, or becoming a riot grrrl or whatever other personal goals you may have set for yourself.

-- Sarah Hagan

1. The women quoted were fairly young, in their 20s and early 30s. I'd like to check back with them in 15 or 20 years, and see if they so blithely believe that abortion is merely an issue of choice and convenience. I had an abortion in my 20s, which was an enormous relief at the time. I didn't think much about it much in my 30s, but now in my late 40s, I think about it almost daily. After watching friends struggling with fertility and miscarriage, after watching other people's babies grow into astonishing human beings, I began to think very differently about abortion. I wonder what kind of person my offspring might have become. I wonder why there were so many women encouraging me in 1980 to have the abortion, and why there wasn't anyone encouraging me to have the baby and give it up for adoption. I suspect the young ladies quoted in the article will be thinking differently about abortion in 20 years.

2. I support legalized abortion, but I hope the stigma never goes away. It is a regrettable option, and it should be discouraged in our society.

-- Mary Beth Hayes

I absolutely believe that women should have the right to an abortion; but I also believe that a fetus is, in a real sense, a human being. It is a he or a she. I can say that, and believe that, and still support women's right to abortion. But I can't find much from the pro-choice movement that engages with this fact. The pro-life contingent enshrines that fact above everything else, and everyone else, and that is wrong. But the pro-choice contingent doesn't seem to speak to that fact at all. Why?

-- Maureena

Thanks for your story. It is one of the few times in my life that reading something has changed or clarified my position on an issue.

To be honest up front, I am a man, albeit a liberal, pro-choice one. I marched in Washington, D.C., for abortion rights recently, which made me realize there are many others out there who view abortion as a necessity.

Though I am pro-choice, I am not pro-abortion. If we were to vastly improve our welfare system I would like to see the practice ended. I'm pro-choice because it's not up to me, it's not my choice to make, and the current welfare system is awful.

I disagree with some of these women's comments. "It sounds fucked up, but having an abortion was one of the best things I ever did," the author quotes, and indeed, that is fucked up. Whether or not you believe a fetus is a human, this reaction sounds like a rationalization to me. I would imagine that it would be heartbreaking to have an abortion, even though you may live a better life because of it.

The story is right in that abortion should not be a social stigma. But I'm also offended at the idea of glorifying it or glamorizing it. You shouldn't be ashamed of an abortion, but I don't know how you could be "proud" of it either.

-- Peter Fehrs

I'm sorry, but you people are completely out of your minds. Like I'm really going to wear a T-shirt advertising to the world that I have undergone a procedure that is a personal, private matter. Why don't you just go ahead and print up some golfers' caps saying something along the lines of, "On 9/11, I was rooting for Osama!" Sheesh!

I can't really speak for the rest of the female population, but as for someone who has had the unfortunate experience, I believe that, by and large, women aren't sorry they had an abortion, but they are sorry they HAD to have one.

As for the woman cited in your article who had three abortions, I say, honey, shut your legs, will ya? If abortion is being used as a form of birth control, is it any wonder our reproductive rights are being questioned?

-- Paula

One may chose to have an abortion partly to defy society's demands that women become mothers, but motherhood, even single unplanned motherhood, doesn't have to be something undesirable that "society" imposes on women. It is possible to own your decision to become a mother as a positive choice as much as you do your decision to have an abortion. A secret: Becoming a mother has the power to change you unlike any other experience in the world, if you're willing to take it on. That, if anything, is what "society" doesn't want you to know.

-- Mother by Choice

I'm all for keeping abortion safe and legal, but I must admit my stomach turned while reading this article. Two and three abortions? Why? I can see allowing for one abortion, but any more than that is just beyond apathetic and irresponsible. How about condoms? How about the Pill? The Pill patch? An IUD? I can't imagine that any of these is more tedious than lugging oneself to a doctor's office and having your uterus vacuumed out. In other words, how about preventing pregnancy, so you don't have to purchase a T-shirt that reads "I had an abortion."

The subjects want open dialogue? That's fine too, but the crux of the conversation should be making abortion more rare, not a fashion statement celebrating 'no regrets' for the fetus dismembered because it was convenient, but pregnancy was not.

-- Kelly Facenda

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------