At a pivotal time in the abortion debate, Ms. magazine is releasing its fall issue next week with a cover story titled “We Had Abortions,” accompanied by the names of thousands of women nationwide who signed a petition making that declaration.
The publication coincides with what the abortion-rights movement considers a watershed moment for its cause. Abortion access in many states is being curtailed, activists are uncertain about the stance of the U.S. Supreme Court, and South Dakotans vote Nov. 7 on a measure that would ban virtually all abortions in their state, even in cases of rape and incest.
“All this seems very dire,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, which publishes Ms.
“We have to get away from what the politicians are saying,” she said, “and get women’s lives back in the picture.”
Even before the issue reaches newsstands Oct. 10, anti-abortion activists have been decrying it. Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, wrote in a commentary that when she saw a Ms. announcement of the project, “the evil practically jumped right off the page.”
Ms. executive editor Katherine Spillar said more than 5,000 women have signed the petition so far — heeding its appeal to declare they are unashamed of the choice they made. The magazine itself had room for only 1,016 names, she said Tuesday, but all of them will be viewable online as Ms. encourages other women to continue adding their signatures.
Ms. says it will send the petition to Congress, the White House and state legislators.
Some famous, but most not
The signatories include Ms. founder Gloria Steinem, comedian Carol Leifer, and actresses Kathy Najimy and Amy Brenneman, but most are not famous names.
Tyffine Jones, 27, of Jackson, Miss., said she had no hesitation about signing — although she lives in a state where restrictions on abortion are tough and all but one abortion clinic has been closed.
Jones said she got an abortion 10 years ago — enduring harassment from protesters when she entered the clinic — in order to finish high school. She went on to become the first member of her family to graduate from college, and hopes at some point to attend law school.
“I wanted to do something bigger with myself — I didn’t want to be stopped by anything,” she said in a telephone interview.
'Hardest decision I've ever made'
Another signatory, Debbie Findling of San Francisco, described her difficult decision last year to have an abortion after tests showed that she would bear a son with Down syndrome.
“I felt it was my right to make the decision, but having that right doesn’t make the decision any easier,” she said. “It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made.”
Findling, 42, is married, with a 5-year-old daughter, and has been trying to get pregnant again while pursuing her career as a philanthropic foundation executive.
She says too many of her allies in the abortion-rights movement tend to minimize, at least publicly, the psychological impact of abortion.
“It’s emotionally devastating,” she said in a phone interview. “I don’t regret my decision — but I regret having been put in the position to have to make that choice. It’s something I’ll live with for the rest of my life.”
Findling strongly supports the Ms. petition, and believes women who have had abortions need to be more open about their decisions. She has written an essay about her own experience, and plans to include it in an anthology she hopes to publish next year.
Ms. mounted this kind of petition drive when it was first published. Its debut issue in 1972 included a manifesto signed by 53 women — many of them well-known — declaring that they had undergone abortions despite state laws outlawing the procedure.
The next year, the Supreme Court issued its Roe v. Wade decision establishing abortion rights nationwide. Some abortion-rights activists are concerned that Roe could be overturned, either by the current court or if President Bush has the opportunity to appoint one more justice.
Smeal said Ms. staffers called the women who signed the petition to verify their information and be sure they were willing to have their names in print.
“The women thanked us for doing this,” Smeal said. “They wanted to tell their stories.”