From The Vault: We Have Had Abortions (Spring 1972)

To pay tribute to five decades of reporting, rebelling and truth-telling, From the Vault includes some of our favorite feminist classics from the last 50 years of MsFor more iconic, ground-breaking stories like this, order 50 YEARS OF Ms.: THE BEST OF THE PATHFINDING MAGAZINE THAT IGNITED A REVOLUTION (Alfred A. Knopf)—a stunning collection of the most audacious, norm-breaking coverage Ms. has published.

From its inception in 1972, Ms. has been at the forefront in tackling some of the biggest challenges in the fight for gender equality. In what The Washington Post says “changed the course of the abortion rights movement,” Ms. published “We Have Had Abortions” in its first issue, featuring the signatures of 53 prominent American women.

A year later, in its coverage of the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide, the magazine included a shocking photo of a woman covered in blood on a motel room floor, dead from a back-alley abortion, as a memorial to the countless numbers who died or suffered because of illegal and unsafe abortions (“Never Again”).

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

Not all who signed the Ms. petition had had abortions, and 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. “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.”

Today, social media has become a powerful tool for much of the same kind of truth telling. Among the modern viral moments: 2015’s #ShoutYourAbortion campaign, followed by the 2019 hashtag #YouKnowMe, was the impetus for many thousands of people, from teens to older women, as well as celebrities and lawmakers—the likes of Busy Philipps and Amber Tamblyn, and Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Jackie Speier—to take to Twitter and Instagram to go public with their abortion stories.

(The Ms. series, Our Abortion Stories, chronicles readers’ experiences of abortion pre- and post-RoeShare your abortion story by emailing

This storytelling strategy is also having its day in court.

  • When Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt was argued in the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016, a friend-of-the-court brief was submitted by more than 110 lawyers; it is filled with their testimonies about how having had access to abortion enabled them to go on to become preeminent members of the legal profession.
  • A similar lawyers’ brief was filed in June Medical Services v. Gee in 2019, this time with more than 350 signatories.
  • And in 2021, among the briefs filed in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was one from 500 all-star athletes—including 26 Olympians, 73 professional athletes, 276 college athletes, and top players like the U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe, the WNBA veteran Sue Bird, and the gold medalist in swimming Crissy Perham—as well as another signed by 6,600 everyday citizens, all of whom have had abortions.

In 2022, Ms. relaunched the petition in advance of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning women’s constitutional right to abortion, collecting thousands of names in just a few days. Women who have had abortions have spoken out many times during the past 50 years, and millions of women and men have marched in countless rallies and demonstrations for abortion rights. The result: By a margin of two to one, Americans oppose the repeal of Roe.

These 53 American women invite you to join them in a campaign for honesty and freedom. 

Last year, 343 prominent and respected Frenchwomen were willing to sign a public mani festo 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 inhuman laws, or the expense and physical danger of going outside the law. (Organizations offering information on the laws and on abortion availability are listed on page 126 of this issue.) 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 United States has had an abortion. Until the recent legal reform 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 first nine months of the new legal abortion program, “deaths from childbirth” dropped by at least 60 per cent.

To save lives and to spare other women the pain of socially-imposed guilt, 53 respected women residents in the United States have volunteered to begin 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 inhuman laws. Because of the social stigma 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 this 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. 

The attitudes and laws against abortion in this country are causing untold suffering. Approximately one million American women have had “illegal” abortions in 1971–many of them self-induced or performed by the unqualified, some of them fatal. 

I have had an abortion. I publicly join millions of other American women in demanding a repeal of all laws that restrict our reproductive freedom. 

  • Eve Auchincloss
  • Sunny Aurelio
  • Lorraine Beebe
  • Joan Bingham
  • Patricia Bosworth
  • Kay Boyle
  • Adelyn D. Breeskin
  • Susan Brownmiller
  • Hortense Calisher
  • Jaqueline Michot Ceballos
  • Lucinda Cisler
  • Shirley Clarke
  • Judy Collins
  • Mary Cunningham
  • Anselma Dell ‘Olio
  • Karen De Crow
  • Barbaralee D. Diamonstein
  • Susan Edmiston
  • Nora Ephron
  • Lee Grant
  • Gael Greene
  • Nancy Grossman
  • Barbara Barrie Harnick
  • Lillian Hellman
  • Dorothy Pitman Hughes
  • Elizabeth Janeway
  • Lucy Jarvis
  • Jill Johnston
  • Billie Jean King
  • Maxine Kumin
  • Irma Lazarus
  • Viveca Lindfors
  • Marya Mannes
  • Dorothy Millstone
  • Marcia Colman Morton
  • Anaïs Nin
  • Grace Paley
  • Beverly Pepper
  • Eleanor Perry
  • Frances Fox Piven
  • Letty Cottin Pogrebin
  • Mary Rodgers
  • Naomi Ellen Rubin
  • Nora Sayre
  • Anita Siegel
  • Marcia B. Siegel
  • Anne Sexton
  • Ruth P. Smith
  • Susan Sontag
  • Gloria Steinem
  • Lena Tabori
  • Barbara W. Tuchman
  • Shirley Ann Wheeler

Up next:

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.


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