Under “natural” circumstances, the average woman would get pregnant about 15 times in her life, resulting in ten births. Seven of those babies would survive childhood.

For centuries, people have searched for ways to delay or terminate pregnancy. Today, safe and efficient means of abortion finally exist, yet women around the world continue to use ancient, illegal or risky home methods: Every year, 47,000 women around the world die due to botched abortions.

Why do they take the risk?

Across countries and religions, millions of women are blocked from abortion technologies by law and social coercion, and are forced to carry pregnancies to term against their will. Some are minors and rape victims. For many, the pregnancy is not viable or poses a health risk. But all can be criminalized for trying to abort; in El Salvador, even women suffering a miscarriage are being charged with homicide, facing prison sentences of up to 40 years.”

In violation of patient confidentiality codes, doctors and healthcare providers have been known report women seeking illegal abortions, even when abortion is medically necessary to save the patient’s life. On the other hand, anyone who helps a woman abort in a country where abortion is illegal can find themselves incarcerated. And even in countries where abortion is legal, medical staff may risk their lives to perform the operation.

This year, for the first time in history, the Pope has allowed Catholic women who’ve aborted to be forgiven. But while this may seem like a step forward, it perpetuates the stigma of guilt that surrounds women’s choices. In the meantime, politicians exploit abortion as campaign currency; making reproductive issues a political matter, rather than a question of rights.

Laia Abril’s new long-term project A History of Misogyny is a visual research undertaken through historical and contemporary comparisons. In her first chapter On Abortion Abril documents and conceptualizes the dangers and damages caused by women’s lack of legal, safe and free access to abortion. Continuing with her painstaking research methodology, Abril draws on the past to highlight the long, continuous erosion of women’s reproductive rights to present-day. Her collection of visual, audio and textual evidence weaves a net of questions about ethics and morality, and reveals a staggering series of social triggers, stigmas, and taboos around abortion that have been invisible until now.

ON ABORTION & CONTRACEPTION HISTORY

On Illegal Stories: Poland

On June 27, 2015, the Women on Waves (WoW) Abortion drone made its maiden flight from Frankfurt an der Oder in Germany, to Słubice in Poland, carrying packages of abortion pills.

Abortion is legal in nearly all EU countries, except Poland, Ireland and Malta. The official number of abortions performed in Poland, a country with 38 million inhabitants, is only about 750 per year. According to Dutch pro-choice organization Women on Waves, the real number is closer to 240,000.

My doctor and I pretended we didn’t know each other, so other hospital staff wouldn’t get suspicious. The plan was to state that the fetus was dead, which would get me the curettage legally. My doctor winked when I was supposed to say “yes” or “no” to the procedure. It was absurd and humiliating at the same time.
— Magdalena, 32, Poland
All in all, the experience took almost 15 hours without incident. I called my (now ex-) boyfriend from the road, and he begged me to not do it. When I mentioned the stuffiness and throng, he answered me: “That seems right, murderers should be treated like cattle
— Marta, 29, Poland

Baby hatch, baby box, ruota dei trovatelli (foundling wheel) or okno zycia. These little windows can be opened from outside for mothers to deposit unwanted infants. After this, an alarm sounds to alert the nuns at the convent to take in the orphan. This system has existed in one form or another for centuries all over the world.

The United Nations is concerned at the baby box’s recent spread in Europe; in 2012, nearly 200 baby drop-off points were installed across the continent. More than 400 children have been left in European child abandonment centers since 2000.

ON ILLEGAL STORIES: Chile, Peru, Ireland

It happened when I was 24. I had been sexually assaulted, and I found out I was pregnant after just four or five weeks. At that time, abortion in Chile was illegal under any circumstance [even when the mother’s life was in risk]. Getting it done was a hell of a process; I was afraid the so-called doctors who did it would botch the job or kill me and cut me into pieces. But in the end, everything went well and I threw a party to celebrate with the people who helped me
— Lucía, Chile
In 2010, my wife Michelle and I found out we were pregnant. She was over the moon, although I was worried and realistic — she had been fighting cancer since 2001 and was terminal. Unfortunately, her chemotherapy treatment had probably damaged the fetus, before we even knew there was one. Michelle was also unlikely to survive a pregnancy. Her oncologist prescribed an abortion. Michelle did not want to, but we had no other option. To our surprise, Cork University Hospital refused to do it
— Neil, Ireland
Taking an scalding bath seems to be a widespread method that has persisted for generations. One Sanskrit text from the 8th century recommends squatting over a boiling pot of onions, a technique also used by Jewish women in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the early 1900s. As late as 1870, some abortionists would pull out patients’ teeth without aesthetic because the pain and shock was thought to induce miscarriage.

Taking an scalding bath seems to be a widespread method that has persisted for generations. One Sanskrit text from the 8th century recommends squatting over a boiling pot of onions, a technique also used by Jewish women in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the early 1900s.

As late as 1870, some abortionists would pull out patients’ teeth without aesthetic because the pain and shock was thought to induce miscarriage.

Desperate pregnant woman have been known to probe themselves with knitting needles, whalebone, turkey feathers, umbrella rods or the infamous coat hanger. These can cause infection, hemorrhage, sterility and death. Abortion rights advocates worldwide have long used the coat hanger as a symbol of the pro-choice movement, and this method is now seeing a resurgence in the United States, where abortion restrictions are increasingly narrow.

Desperate pregnant woman have been known to probe themselves with knitting needles, whalebone, turkey feathers, umbrella rods or the infamous coat hanger. These can cause infection, hemorrhage, sterility and death. Abortion rights advocates worldwide have long used the coat hanger as a symbol of the pro-choice movement, and this method is now seeing a resurgence in the United States, where abortion restrictions are increasingly narrow.

The infusion of these plants: Ruda and Chipilin are used by women to abort during the first trimester in El Salvador. There has been an endless list of oral drugs thought to abort a fetus, since before the time of Hippocrates. A few examples: Clover mixed with white wine, squirting cucumber, stinking iris, slippery elm, brewer’s yeast, melon, wild carrot, aloe, papaya, crushed ants, camel hair, lead, belladonna, quinine and pomegranate. Alternatively, self-starvation.

The infusion of these plants: Ruda and Chipilin are used by women to abort during the first trimester in El Salvador.

There has been an endless list of oral drugs thought to abort a fetus, since before the time of Hippocrates. A few examples: Clover mixed with white wine, squirting cucumber, stinking iris, slippery elm, brewer’s yeast, melon, wild carrot, aloe, papaya, crushed ants, camel hair, lead, belladonna, quinine and pomegranate.

Alternatively, self-starvation.

Was one of the other hundred “tricks” women invented to jeopardize her pregnancy when they did not    have easy access to abortion. Interesting enough is how, in one of the most common ways of abortion in Middle Ages — neonaticide; when women used to leave the newborns outside the house or thought them to the river. Unlike other European regions, the German mother had the right to expose them. 

Was one of the other hundred “tricks” women invented to jeopardize her pregnancy when they did not    have easy access to abortion. Interesting enough is how, in one of the most common ways of abortion in Middle Ages — neonaticide; when women used to leave the newborns outside the house or thought them to the river. Unlike other European regions, the German mother had the right to expose them. 

Advertising materials for clinics that “regulate” and “fix” menstrual delays in Peru.

Abortion in Peru is illegal, except in case of a threat to the life or health of the mother. However, since 2014, 277 women have died after being denied access to abortion. Women who self-abort can be sentenced to up to two years in prison. Anyone who performs an illegal abortion can be sentenced to one to six years.

Human incubator In November 27, 2014, an Irish woman in her 20s was admitted to hospital with headaches and nausea. Two days later, the mother of two suffered a fall and was later found unresponsive. On December 9th, she was declared clinically brain dead. She was 15 weeks pregnant at the time, and was placed on life support against her family’s wishes. In December 26, the Irish High Court ruled that the life support machine could be turned off after hearing that her fetus had little chance of surviving. Under the 1983 8th amendment of the Irish constitution, an unborn child has the same rights as its mother.

Human incubator

In November 27, 2014, an Irish woman in her 20s was admitted to hospital with headaches and nausea. Two days later, the mother of two suffered a fall and was later found unresponsive. On December 9th, she was declared clinically brain dead. She was 15 weeks pregnant at the time, and was placed on life support against her family’s wishes.

In December 26, the Irish High Court ruled that the life support machine could be turned off after hearing that her fetus had little chance of surviving. Under the 1983 8th amendment of the Irish constitution, an unborn child has the same rights as its mother.

Hippocratic betrayal On February 2015, a 19-year-old pregnant woman ingested abortive pills in São Bernardo do Campo, Brazil. She started feeling abdominal pains, so her aunt took her to hospital. After she was treated, her doctor called the police, saying he would autopsy the fetus if she did not confess to trying to abort. She was handcuffed to her hospital bed, and freed only after paying a 250€ bail. Denunciation by doctors is not uncommon in Brazil, Peru or El Salvador. They can be retained in hospitals for weeks or months. Many claim they are legally required to notify authorities when they suspect an abortion, in contradiction to professional codes of doctor-patient confidentiality.

Hippocratic betrayal

On February 2015, a 19-year-old pregnant woman ingested abortive pills in São Bernardo do Campo, Brazil. She started feeling abdominal pains, so her aunt took her to hospital. After she was treated, her doctor called the police, saying he would autopsy the fetus if she did not confess to trying to abort. She was handcuffed to her hospital bed, and freed only after paying a 250€ bail.

Denunciation by doctors is not uncommon in Brazil, Peru or El Salvador. They can be retained in hospitals for weeks or months. Many claim they are legally required to notify authorities when they suspect an abortion, in contradiction to professional codes of doctor-patient confidentiality.

Visual War Anti-abortion protesters [often including their children] have a long history of harassing women who try to access to abortion clinics. Their banners go from naïf child imaginary to dantesque, bizarre, graphic images of fetus and death children [often altering and manipulating origin and data of the pictures]. In countries as US, UK, Australia, Canada or South Africa governments draw a perimeter around the facilities, known variously as a “buffer zone”, “bubble zone”, or “access zone” intending to limit those who oppose abortion can approach. Pixelated images from pro-life sites where they compare the hand of a dead fetus mired in blood, to the tip of a pencil and the fetus body to a coin.

Visual War

Anti-abortion protesters [often including their children] have a long history of harassing women who try to access to abortion clinics. Their banners go from naïf child imaginary to dantesque, bizarre, graphic images of fetus and death children [often altering and manipulating origin and data of the pictures]. In countries as US, UK, Australia, Canada or South Africa governments draw a perimeter around the facilities, known variously as a “buffer zone”, “bubble zone”, or “access zone” intending to limit those who oppose abortion can approach.

Pixelated images from pro-life sites where they compare the hand of a dead fetus mired in blood, to the tip of a pencil and the fetus body to a coin.

The abortion saint Saint Gianna Beretta Molla (October 4, 1922 – April 28, 1962) was an Italian pediatrician who refused both an abortion and a hysterectomy when she was pregnant with her fourth child, despite knowing that continuing with the pregnancy would result in her own death. She was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2004 and is a patron saint for mothers, physicians, and unborn children. Abortion is legal in Italy up to 90 days of pregnancy, but in some hospitals, 100% of doctors are conscientious objectors, forcing women to travel abroad for a termination

The abortion saint

Saint Gianna Beretta Molla (October 4, 1922 – April 28, 1962) was an Italian pediatrician who refused both an abortion and a hysterectomy when she was pregnant with her fourth child, despite knowing that continuing with the pregnancy would result in her own death. She was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2004 and is a patron saint for mothers, physicians, and unborn children.

Abortion is legal in Italy up to 90 days of pregnancy, but in some hospitals, 100% of doctors are conscientious objectors, forcing women to travel abroad for a termination

“Pro-life” terrorism In 1993, American anti-abortion extremists like The Lambs of Christ and The Army of God began murdering doctors who provided abortions. The latest attack claimed a police officer and two civilians at a family-planning clinic in Colorado, last year. There have been at least 11 murders and 26 attempted murders due to anti-abortion violence in the US. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “Ten Most Wanted” poster of anti-abortion extremist James Kopp. Convicted of killing Dr. Barnett Slepian at home in Amherst, New York, in October, 1998, Kopp received the maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison. 

“Pro-life” terrorism

In 1993, American anti-abortion extremists like The Lambs of Christ and The Army of God began murdering doctors who provided abortions. The latest attack claimed a police officer and two civilians at a family-planning clinic in Colorado, last year. There have been at least 11 murders and 26 attempted murders due to anti-abortion violence in the US.

Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “Ten Most Wanted” poster of anti-abortion extremist James Kopp. Convicted of killing Dr. Barnett Slepian at home in Amherst, New York, in October, 1998, Kopp received the maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison. 

Jesus crying over aborted baby The Eastern Orthodox Church believes that life begins at conception, and abortion equals murder. If a woman whose life is at risk terminates her pregnancy, she won’t be excommunicated for the sin, but must confess to a priest and fulfill a penance. On the other hand, in Islam, a fetus is believed to become a living soul after 4 months of gestation, so abortion after then is impermissible. When a mother’s life is at risk, religious texts prioritize saving the “original source of life” instead of the “potential life”. 

Jesus crying over aborted baby

The Eastern Orthodox Church believes that life begins at conception, and abortion equals murder. If a woman whose life is at risk terminates her pregnancy, she won’t be excommunicated for the sin, but must confess to a priest and fulfill a penance. On the other hand, in Islam, a fetus is believed to become a living soul after 4 months of gestation, so abortion after then is impermissible. When a mother’s life is at risk, religious texts prioritize saving the “original source of life” instead of the “potential life”. 

Zika Aedes aegypti mosquitoes transmit the feared Zika virus to pregnant women, who can pass it to their unborn children. Recent Zika outbreaks in Brazil have been linked to microcephaly in babies. In early 2016, the Brazilian government recorded 3,893 new cases of the fetal anomaly. The World Health Organization has urged increased access to abortion for pregnant women infected with Zika in Latin America, but the procedure remains limited in Brazil, Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, Paraguay and El Salvador.

Zika

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes transmit the feared Zika virus to pregnant women, who can pass it to their unborn children. Recent Zika outbreaks in Brazil have been linked to microcephaly in babies. In early 2016, the Brazilian government recorded 3,893 new cases of the fetal anomaly.

The World Health Organization has urged increased access to abortion for pregnant women infected with Zika in Latin America, but the procedure remains limited in Brazil, Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, Paraguay and El Salvador.

Abortion confession: 365 days of forgiveness

On November 8, 2015, the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy began. It is a one year holy period, in which Pope Francis has allowed every priest in the world be forgive the sin of abortion. St. John Paul II taught in Evangelium Vitae (paragraph 58) that abortion is “murder” and aborting women should be excommunicated.

Audio installation: Hidden audio recording of a fake confession of a real abortion and its indulgence.

Bologna, February, 2016 – Jubilee Year.

click to view the full series of images (Law, God & Violence) in the archive