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FEATURE | fall 2006

We Had Abortions
These women invite you to join them in a campaign for honesty and freedom.

In its 1972 debut issue, Ms. Magazine ran a bold petition in which 53 well-known U.S. women declared that they had undergone abortions—despite state laws rendering the procedure illegal. These women were following the example of a 1971 manifesto signed by 343 prominent French women, who also had declared they had abortions.

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Even then, to many it seemed absurd that the government could deny a woman sovereignty over her own body. It was even more absurd that a recent abortion ban was passed into law by the South Dakota legislature, although it was resoundingly rejected by voters in November 2006. Whatever happens in South Dakota, 17 other states now have trigger laws or pre-Roe v. Wade laws that could automatically ban abortion if the Supreme Court were to reverse Roe. Myriad restrictions already limit access to abortion in the U.S. for poor women, young women and women in the military.

We know it is time again for women of conscience to stand up and speak truth to power.

March for Women's LivesAt the time of the original Ms. petition, illegal abortions were causing untold suffering in the United States, especially for poor women who had to resort to unsafe self-induced or back-alley abortions. Today, in the developing nations, approximately 70,000 women and girls die each year from botched and unsafe abortions. Another 500,000 needless maternal deaths occur. Most of this suffering and loss could be prevented. U.S. international family-planning policies contribute to the death toll: first, by conditioning U.S. aid on a global gag rule that prevents medical workers from even giving out information on abortion (let alone providing the service); second, by withholding or providing inadequate funds; and finally, by funding “abstinence-only” rather than comprehensive sex education.

We are now starting a new petition, beginning with the names of some of the original 1972 signers. They signed to save lives and to spare other women the pain of socially imposed guilt.” Their purpose was “to repeal archaic and inhuman laws.” They recognized that because of the “social stigma still wrongly attached to abortion” many would not be able to sign publicly. But they invited all women to sign—“to help eliminate the stigma.”

March ProtestorsWe recognize that, still, not every woman will be able to sign—33 years after Roe— even though abortion is a very common, necessary and important procedure for millions of women in the U.S. But if a multitude of women step forward publicly, and more and more continue to join us, we will transform the public debate.

We know that women who have had abortions have spoken out many times during the last 33 years, and millions of women and men have marched in countless rallies and demonstrations. It is time to speak out again—in even larger numbers—and to make politicians face their neighbors, influential members of the community and, yes, their own family members who have had abortions. We cannot, must not, lose the right to safe and accessible abortion or access to birth control—for U.S. women and the women of the world. Just as in 1972, Ms. will send the signed petitions to the White House, members of Congress and state legislators. We will also post the petition online. And we ask signers to make a contribution so Ms. can promote the petition and provide needed funds to fight abortion bans and support targeted abortion providers, such as the sole remaining women’s clinic in Mississippi.

Your name and your voice will make a difference.

Sign the petition
Contribute to spread the word

 

Ms. Reader Stories

Ms. has been simply flooded with letters to the editor about our "We Had Abortions" petition. Women across the country are telling Ms. their stories, and we will be posting some of those stories here frequently. Send your story to letterstotheeditor@msmagazine.com along with your full name and phone number. And, check back to see the latest reader stories and news about the Ms. petition!

Kathleen Lake:

I'm very grateful that [abortion] was a legal and moral choice when I needed it [in 1976]. My mother, as well as many women during the depression, also had an abortion in 1933. Hers was not legal, and not safe. It was also very expensive. She was married to my father, but they simply couldn't afford a child. Many of her friends were in similar situations. Her abortion and my abortion both cost the same amount--$175.00. In 1933, that was a fortune.

Abortion MUST remain legal and safe. There is no alternative. No one has the right to tell me what I can and cannot do with MY body. It is as simple as that.

 

Jennifer Ferris:

While I have never had an abortion myself I have always treasured and counted on that right if the need arose. I will encourage my friends who have had an abortion to read your petition and consider signing. This is an important right that seems to be slipping out of our grasp.

 

View other Ms. reader stories.

 

Ms. in the News

Watch Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor" discussing the Ms. "We Had Abortions" petition.

Read the Associated Press article on the Ms. petition.

Read coverage of the Ms. petition from South Dakota.

Listen to NPR's coverage of the Ms. petition and one woman's story.

 

What the Blogs Are Saying

The Ms. "We Had Abortions" petition has received tremendous coverage by our friends in the feminist and progressive blogosphere. Here is a sampling of these posts.

Women Protest for Reproductive RightsHuffingtonPost.com's Becoming Fearless: In a post entitled "Fearless on Abortion," author Angela Bonavoglia recounts her similar effort to destigmatize abortion in her book The Choices We Made: 25 Women and Men Speak Out About Abortion. Bonavoglia quotes actress Anne Archer in her book as saying, "It is only through the personal stories of women who have had abortions that we will come to understand what the human experience is."

Feministing: Jessica Valenti writes that it's "kind of sad that we're in such bad shape that another petition is needed so many years later" after the first petition in 1972 in the debut issue of Ms.

Salon.com's Broadsheet came to Ms.' defense when AOL News misleading referred to the "We Had Abortions" petition as naming women who had abortions, though in fact the women who signed the petition named themselves, and many wanted to tell their stories.

Daily Kos diarist Rogneid urged readers to sign the Ms. Petition, saying, "Let our signatures be our voice and our hope that we can keep abortion safe and legal."

Reproductive Rights Blog wrote that it's astounding "how many people feel like they're all alone in the abortion thing. I repeat constantly that almost 1/2 of American women will have an abortion at some point in their lives."

 

Other Resources

A powerful, poignant, and fiercely honest film, I HAD AN ABORTION tackles the stigmatized topic of abortion, featuring 10 women who candidly describe abortion experiences that span seven decades, from the years before Roe v. Wade to the present day.