We Had Abortions

In its 1972 debut issue, Ms. magazine ran a bold petition in which 53 well-known U.S. women declared that they had undergone abortions —despite state laws rendering the procedure illegal. These women were following the example of a 1971 manifesto signed by 343 prominent French women, who also had declared they had abortions.

Even then, to many it seemed absurd that the government could deny a woman sovereignty over her own body. It is even more absurd in 2006 to learn that an abortion ban has passed into law in South Dakota, although it has been stayed until an initiative to remove the ban is voted on this November. Whatever happens in South Dakota, 17 other states now have trigger laws or pre-Roe v.Wade laws that could automatically ban abortion if the Supreme Court were to reverse Roe. Experts believe that as many as 30 states could outlaw abortion if Roe is overturned. A myriad of restrictions already limit access to abortion in the U.S. for poor women, young women and women in the military.

We know it is time again for women of conscience to stand up and speak truth to power.

At the time of the original Ms. petition, illegal abortions were causing untold suffering in the United States, especially for poor women who had to resort to unsafe self-induced or back-alley abortions. Today, in the developing nations, approximately 70,000 women and girls die each year from botched and unsafe abortions. Another 500,000 needless maternal deaths occur. Most of this suffering and loss could be prevented. U.S. international family-planning policies contribute to the death toll: first, by conditioning U.S. aid on a global gag rule that prevents medical workers from even giving out information on abortion (let alone providing the service); second, by withholding or providing inadequate funds; and finally, by funding "abstinence-only" rather than comprehensive sex education.

We are now starting a new petition, beginning with the names of some of the original 1972 signers. They signed "to save lives and to spare other women the pain of socially imposed guilt." Their purpose was "to repeal archaic and inhuman laws." They recognized that because of the "social stigma still wrongly attached to abortion" many would not be able to sign publicly. But they invited all women to sign-"to help eliminate the stigma."

We recognize that, still, not every woman will be able to sign — 33 years after Roe — even though abortion is a very common, necessary and important procedure for millions of women in the U.S. But if a multitude of women step forward publicly, and more and more continue to join us, we will transform the public debate.

We know that women who have had abortions have spoken out many times during the last 33 years, and millions of women and men have marched in countless rallies and demonstrations. It is time to speak out again -- in even larger numbers -- and to make politicians face their neighbors, influential members of the community and, yes, their own family members who have had abortions. We cannot, must not, lose the right to safe and accessible abortion or access to birth control -- for U.S. women and the women of the world. Just as in 1972, Ms. will send the signed petitions to the White House, members of Congress and state legislators. We will also post the petition online. And we ask signers to make a contribution so Ms. can promote the petition and provide needed funds to fight abortion bans and support targeted abortion providers, such as the sole remaining women's clinic in Mississippi.

Your name and your voice will make a difference.

To add your name to the petition, go to www.msmagazine.com.

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