#WeWontGoBack: Why Abortion Must Remain Safe and Legal

In the spring of 1972—more than a year before the decision in Roe v. Wade—Ms. released a preview issue (pictured left), which featured a powerful petition signed by 53 prominent American women declaring that they’d had abortions, the vast majority of which would have been illegal. Among those who signed were cofounding Ms. editors Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes, writers Nora Ephron, Anaïs Nin and Susan Sontag and tennis legend Billie Jean King.

Ms. has remained committed to keeping abortion safe and legal since we launched more than four decades ago. We repeated the “We Had Abortions” campaign in 2006 and received thousands of signatures, demonstrating that safe abortion access not only remains a critical issue for feminists, but that women are willing to publicly declare that they’ve undergone the procedure to protect future women’s access.

With the the Supreme Court set to revisit women’s fundamental right to access abortion in the Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole case (arguments are scheduled for March 2), nationwide access to abortion is facing the most serious threat since 1992. Taking a stand for reproductive freedom, a group of 100 women lawyers took a cue from Ms. earlier this month and declared to the Supreme Court that they’d had abortions in an amicus brief; they credited the choice to end their pregnancies with their current success in the legal profession.

Now more than ever, women’s voices must be heard.

As the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade approaches on Jan. 22, and abortion rights are under threat in state legislatures and in the streets across the nation, the Ms. Blog decided to take a look at the realities of illegal abortion pre-Roe. As part of our #WeWontGoBack campaign, Ms. Blog readers are sharing their stories—or the stories of friends and family members—who resorted to illegal abortions because they had no choice. Use the hashtag to share your story on social media and check back with us regularly to read powerful personal tales.

Below, read the original “We Have Had Abortions” petition that appeared in the preview issue of Ms.


Last year, 343 prominent and respected Frenchwomen were willing to sign a public manifesto declaring that they had undergone abortions. This acte de révolte dramatized their individual determination to take their lives and liberation into their own hands. It also showed their willingness to stand with and to speak for their less well-known sisters, who were forced to suffer unwanted pregnancies or illegal abortions in silence.

To many American women and men it seems absurd, in this allegedly enlightened age, that we should still be arguing for a simple principle: that a woman has the right to sovereignty over her own body. Still, there are tragically few places in the country where a woman can obtain an abortion without the expense and deception of conforming to inhumane laws, or the expense and physical danger of going outside the law. The vast majority of abortion laws in this country are remnants of obscurantist attitudes and medieval prejudices.

In fact, at least one of every four women in the Untied States has had an abortion. Until the recent legal reforms in two states, all of those had to be either therapeutic or illegal. Given the difficulty of securing a therapeutic abortion, the great majority of abortions endured by American women have been illegal—and therefore dangerous. This has caused untold suffering, especially on the part of poor women who must resort to self-induced or butchered abortions. Some idea of the lives to be saved by repealing abortion laws is suggested by the recent drastic reduction in deaths from childbirth, a statistic that includes deaths from bungled abortions, in New York City alone. During the nine months of the new legal abortion program, “deaths from childbirth” dropped by at least 60 percent.

To save lives and spare other women the pain of socially imposed guilt, 53 respected women residents in the United States have volunteered to sign the American Women’s Petition by signing the statement below. Our purpose is not to alienate or to ask for sympathy, but to repeal archaic and inhumane laws. Because of the social sigma still wrongly attached to abortion, many women in public life, or with husbands in public life, have felt unable to join us. We are mostly women active in community work, or in the arts. But we invite all women, from every walk of life, to help eliminate the stigma by joining us in this petition, and signing the statement below. The complete list will be sent to the White House, to every State Legislature, and to our sisters in other countries who are signing similar petitions for their lawmakers.

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