“We Have Had Abortions” Petition Relaunches 50 Years Later—With Support From Original Signatories

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Participants hold signs during the Women’s March “Hold The Line For Abortion Justice” at the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021 in D.C., the day of oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade. (Leigh Vogel / Getty Images for Women’s March Inc)

“While the Supreme Court may, because of the machinations of the one party, eviscerate Roe v. Wade, now is not the time to give up,” said Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, the author of the original “We Have Had Abortions” article that appeared in Ms.

In 1972—when abortion was illegal throughout most of the country—53 well-known U.S. women courageously declared “We Have Had Abortions” in the pages of the preview issue of Ms. magazine.

“To many American women and men it seems absurd, that 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,” they declared.

Gloria Steinem, Billie Jean King, Susan Sontag, Nora Ephron, Dorothy Pitman Hughes and Judy Collins were among the signers. The women spoke out “to save lives and to spare other women the pain of socially imposed guilt” and “to repeal archaic and inhuman laws.” They invited all women to sign in order to “help eliminate the stigma” of abortion.

The petition was inspired by a public manifesto signed the year before by 343 French women declaring they had undergone abortions.

Not all who signed the Ms. petition had abortions, and the there was a ground rule not to ask nor to reply to that question, says Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, the author of the original “We Have Had Abortions” article that appeared in Ms.

“Signers responded in the evocative and then-current spirit of JFK’s ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’ Anything that impacts a woman—has resonance and touches on the rights of one woman—impacts each and all of us, with each of us understanding that there was and still is strength in a constituency, which we were hoping to ignite,” Diamonstein-Spielvogel told Ms. this year.

The next year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that abortion was a fundamental right protected by the U.S. Constitution.

But now, 50 years later, the current Trump-packed Supreme Court is poised to overturn the constitutional right to access abortion. In September, the Court allowed a Texas six-week abortion ban to go into effect. Then in December, they heard oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson, involving a Mississippi abortion ban directly challenging Roe v. Wade. If the Court overturns Roe, 26 states will likely ban abortion. Meanwhile, waiting periods, parental consent requirements, funding bans and other restrictions already limit access to abortion for many, including young women, women in the military and poor women, disproportionately impacting women of color.

“It is a puzzlement why there is such an interest in re-erecting barriers to reproductive rights, and making it more difficult for women—especially less affluent women—to have complete control over their bodies,” said Diamonstein-Speilvogel.

In 2006, Ms. relaunched the petition as the Supreme Court was hearing the case of Gonzalez v. Carhart—a case that would eventually uphold a federal abortion ban on a procedure necessary to preserve women’s health. The Court had struck down a nearly identical law several years before, but experienced a rightward turn upon the retirement of Sandra Day O’Connor in January of 2006 and her replacement by arch conservative Samuel Alito. Similarly today, with Trump’s three recent appointments, the Supreme Court has once again lurched to the right, and women’s rights are in danger.

Given the dire circumstances, Ms. is once again relaunching the petition, with the encouragement and support of some of the original 1972 signers.

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Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel authored the original “We Have Had Abortions” article that appeared in Ms.

“While the Supreme Court may, because of the machinations of the one party, eviscerate Roe v. Wade, now is not the time to give up,” said Diamonstein-Spielvogel. “If federal protections crumble, those available through state laws will be even more critical. Now is the time to organize on the grassroots level. We cannot go back to a time where your life, your health, and your future is determined by where you happen to live, and how much money you have.”

The original petition has since inspired many to publicly declare their abortions. Organizations such as Shout Your Abortion and We Testify use abortion storytelling as a strategy to normalize abortion and expand access. In the Dobbs case, We Testify and Advocates for Youth filed an amicus brief with first-hand accounts of people who have “relied on the availability of abortion protected under this Court’s prior precedents.” Athletes told their abortion stories in another brief.

“The irony is that so many ‘right to life’ supporters, who express great concern for a child before it is born, renounce that concern once a child is born,” said Diamonstein-Speilvogel. “Too often, access to free, quality education and healthcare, nutritious food and safe housing are all viewed as privileges for children who are already born by the self-same people who would fight to the death to preserve the ‘right to life’ of a small cluster of cells.”

Three members of Congress have already signed onto the new petition—Representatives Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Marie Newman (D-Ill.) and Jackie Speier (D-Calif.)—all of whom have told their stories on the U.S. House floor. Ms. is calling on the millions of women who have had abortions in the United States to publicly acknowledge their abortions by signing the petitions and others to sign on in solidarity to demand a repeal of laws that restrict women’s reproductive freedom. Then, just as in 1972, Ms. will send the signed petition to members of Congress, to the White House—and to the Supreme Court.

Your name and your voice will make a difference. Add your name to the Ms. petition for safe, legal and accessible abortion and birth control here.

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About

Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.