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Monday, December 27, 2004

The "I Had An Abortion" t-shirts reappear in Full Frontal Offense: Taking Abortion Rights to the Tees from the December edition of Bitch.

The article focuses on the mixed reaction to these t-shirts in the pro-choice feminist community. One defense of the t-shirts comes from Barbara Ehrenreich:

In the face of such a far-reaching anti-choice agenda, the presence of women wearing t-shirts proclaiming their decision to have an abortion would seem a forceful response. As Barbara Ehrenreich recently reminded readers in a New York Times editorial, "Abortion is legal—it’s just not supposed to be mentioned or acknowledged as an acceptable option." Since Roe v. Wade, she writes, "at least 30 million American women" have had abortions, "a number that amounts to about 40 percent of American women." Yet according to a 2003 survey conducted by a pro-choice organization, "only 30 percent of women were unambivalently pro-choice." Ehrenreich logically surmises that many women who refuse to state publicly that they are pro-choice have nevertheless obtained safe, legal abortions. By remaining silent about their experience, or by refusing to call the act of terminating a pregnancy because of fetal birth defects an abortion, these women are tacitly supporting those who seek to outlaw abortion. To be vocal about abortion—not by supporting an abstract "freedom of choice," but instead by naming abortion as a fact of women’s experience—is thus to break the dual threat of political and private shaming that keeps women silent.
As a new inductee into the reality-based community, let me point out that the t-shirts don't require that the woman wearing it "name abortion as a fact of woman's experience." They require that she name it as a fact of her experience.

Ehrenreich's figures tell us that not all women who have had an abortion are "willing to state publicly that they are pro-choice". 30% of women are unambivalently pro-choice, but certainly not all of them are post-abortive, judging by often one hears, "I would never have an abortion, but I support your right to that choice". What this tells us is not that many women who have availed themselves of their legal right to an act of despair are too timid, apathetic or non-caring to speak up in sisterly solidarity so that others, too, may commit an act of despair.

What these figures suggest is that many women who have availed themselves of this legal right as they experienced first-hand our society's abandonment and manipulation of pregnant women no longer believe that the unlimited abortion license is the best way to support their sisters.

But to return to the t-shirts. From reading the article, it seems that the purpose of the t-shirt is to normalize the experience of abortion, so that onlookers will see the t-shirt and the woman wearing the t-shirt, and think, "Gee. She looks really normal, just like my sister or mom, so therefore...abortion is...normal." I had to put in the dot-dot-dots because although this is the train of thinking espoused in the article, it seems there is something missing. The dots represent that missing factor. If you can figure out what it is, please let me know.

The t-shirt enterprise, as I said at the time, is tone-deaf. It will never achieve any market penetration. The emotion that a typical person-on-the-street would experience, if he or she saw a woman wearing one of these t-shirts, is pity.

The Lusty Lady, a blogger whose regular beat is BDSM, also thinks these t-shirts are lame.

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