The U.S. Supreme Court appears to be preparing to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling which established a constitutional right to an abortion, according to a leaked draft majority opinion published by Politico Monday night.
While the Court’s final ruling this summer could change, the decision, if it holds, would leave the legality of abortion to state legislatures, or could open the door to a federal ban being passed by a future Republican-controlled Congress. Though constitutional protections for abortion access have been slowly chipped away at in recent years by successive state laws and prior court decisions, the Supreme Court’s draft ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization would have dramatic effect.
“The shift in the tectonic plates of abortion rights will be as significant as any opinion the Court has ever issued,” the ACLU said in a statement Tuesday.
The linked issues of women’s rights and abortion rights are no stranger to the art world, which has always had artists, curators, and others use their practice and platform for the activist battle.
Beginning in 1989, Portuguese artist Paula Rego responded to a failed referendum to legalize abortion in her home country with Abortion (1989-1999), a series of pastel paintings on the consequences of restricting safe abortion access. Her unflinching depictions of women contorted in pain were so affecting, it was cited as swaying public opinion for Portugal’s second, successful referendum in 2007.
“[The series] highlights the fear and pain and danger of an illegal abortion, which is what desperate women have always resorted to,” Rego told the Guardian. “It’s very wrong to criminalize women on top of everything else. Making abortions illegal is forcing women to the backstreet solution.”
In 2021, artworks by Amy Sherald, Nicole Eisenman, Sam Gilliam, and Simone Leigh, among others, were featured in Choice Works, a fundraising auction jointly presented by Planned Parenthood of Greater New York and Planned Parenthood of South, East, and North Florida at Art Basel Miami Beach to raise funds for abortion access. Later that year, artist Michele Pred launched her own auction with works by Michelle Hartney, Christen Clifford, Amy Khoshbin, and Shireen Liane to raise funds for organization including Whole Woman’s Health, the group that that challenged Texas’s abortion restrictions in the Supreme Court.
After Alabama’s 2019 Human Life Protection Act, which partially criminalized performing abortions, was passed, Jasmine Wahi and Rebecca Pauline Jampol, director of the Project for Empty Space co-curated the exhibition “Abortion is Normal”, with support from artist Marilyn Minter; Gina Nanni, a founding partner of the public relations enterprise Company Agenda; artist Laurie Simmons; and art historian Sandy Tait. The show included work by some 50 artists—including Barbara Kruger, Catherine Opie, Wangechi Mutu, Shirin Neshat and Nan Goldin—responding to health and reproductive justice. As the assembled artists illustrated, the issue of abortion doesn’t exist in a vacuum: it intersects with queerness, classism, and racism. It is a matter of body sovereignty.
Below is a selection of artworks which were featured in “Abortion is Normal” that represent the diversity of perspectives on abortion.