The very first article I ever published focused on a group of feminists artists, Mother Art, who in the 1970s and 1980s addressed a wide range of feminist issues, including abortion.  It proved to be one of my most popular essays, reprised, after I became a mother for The M-Word, and excerpted as the introduction to Mother Art’s self-documentation.


When abortion was illegal

In 1978, Mother Art began a series of art works addressing abortion. Group member Deborah Krall recalled the impetus to address abortion: ‘We felt that there was a generation of younger women who had come of age never experiencing abortion being illegal and that they were forgetting about it. We felt a need to remind them of what that was like so they would feel a sense of urgency about fighting to keep abortion legal.” Not Even If It’s You, performed at the Church on Ocean Park in November 1981, began with the shadow of a pregnant woman standing behind a scrim as a woman outlines her silhouette and draws a fetus within the abdomen. A woman dressed in a man’s suit comes on stage and stencils the words “government property” across the outline. As the lights go out, the members of Mother Art began chanting

No legal abortion, not even in the case of rape, not even in the case of incest, not even when the woman might die, not even when it’s a child who is pregnant, not even when the fetus cannot survive, not even when the fetus is defective

The Suit and the Pregnant Woman carried a naked corpse on stage. A tape narrated the true story of the corpse’s illegal abortion, which cost her life. Slides illustrating her story interspersed with abortion facts appeared on a screen during her narrative. The performance ended with the suit and the pregnant woman repeating the chant.

In The Museum of Illegal Abortions an installation piece, the audience was reminded that it was quite likely that “It Could Be You” in need of an abortion. Spectators viewed implements women had used over the centuries to induce abortions, as well as a timeline of efforts to legalize abortion, while a tape of women recounting their experiences of abortion played. Group member Laura Silagi (2002) recalled “we allowed people to come in to this space one at a time and they could listen to these stories. It was very personal for them because they were alone with these stories.”

Like the members of Mother Art, all these years later, I find myself with similar concerns.

I wonder sometimes if young women today realize that the gradual chipping away at legal abortion means that it may not be there for them, not even if… not even because ….   

I’m not old enough to remember when abortion was illegal, but I spent a summer as an part of my honor’s work interviewing participants in the moevement to legalize abortion in California.  That was enough.