Friday, January 5, 2018

Pro-choice art project addresses men's role in abortion

Posted By on Fri, Jan 5, 2018 at 11:09 AM

click to enlarge Each piece of Lazzarini's new project will have only the man's name, and the year in which the abortion took place. - LINDA LAZZARINI
  • Linda Lazzarini
  • Each piece of Lazzarini's new project will have only the man's name, and the year in which the abortion took place.

I’ll admit, when I first saw local artist Linda Lazzarini’s newest call for entries, I felt off-put, and more than a little confused. It struck me as going against the spirit of her last project, which I personally found powerful and insightful. Last year, Lazzarini collected the stories of those who had faced sexual assault or harassment, and displayed them in an origami installation called Women’s Voices, which will be on display in Sangre De Cristo Arts Center’s Representing the West exhibit, starting Feb. 2. I saw a section of Women’s Voices at Planned Parenthood’s recent exhibition at The Gallery Below, and thought it was a solid concept, and a good, anonymous way to share the stories of women who may have been reluctant to share them on their Facebook pages during the height of the “#metoo” movement.

This latest project, then, threw me for a bit of a loop.

Lazzarini’s first email about it says, in part: “See, it seems to me that it's totally overlooked that for every woman who has an abortion, the man who impregnated her had one, too. That's what this project is about: men who had abortions.” She then asks that folks on her mailing list send her the name (or pseudonym) of a man who has “had an abortion” and the year in which that abortion took place. Once she receives enough responses, she will create a cut-paper representation of each man’s name, to come together in an installation similar to Women’s Voices.

Immediately after reading this, I felt reactively defensive of women who have had abortions, and the fight for reproductive health care in general. I thought of women who didn’t know who the man involved in their pregnancy might be, and women whose partners had left them when they became pregnant. I thought of rape victims, whose attackers had no right to claim the woman’s choice to have an abortion as their own. I read this call for submissions as suggesting that men had an equal emotional investment in a woman’s abortion as she did. My thinking: the only men who can claim to have had abortions are trans men who did, literally, undergo the procedure.

I asked Lazzarini to clarify the project for me, so I might understand where she was coming from, as I suspected from her last project that she wouldn’t have inferred any of my assumptions intentionally.

“I don’t know that I’m trying to assign an equal emotional weight,” she explained when I raised my concerns, “because I don’t know that it ever could be [equal]. But I do think that it’s time that men were assigned half the equation of what happened. It’s not as if the woman did it by herself.”

Lazzarini’s point, then, isn’t that men (even men in committed heterosexual relationships) can claim to have been affected by a woman’s abortion the way she was, but that men should take part of the responsibility for a woman’s abortion. “If a baby’s born it gets the man’s name, but if a woman has an abortion, it’s hers. Things like that just aren’t right,” Lazzarini says

In a society that often stigmatizes women for having an abortion, Lazzarini has a point that it seldom stigmatizes the men who took equal part in the initial pregnancy. She says she sees men with “right to life” signs picketing health centers, and knows that if asked, they’ll say they have never had an abortion. But, according to Lazzarini, they can’t be sure of that. Women they have been with may have had an abortion without their knowledge, and she believes men should take responsibility for that.

“I don’t want to assign guilt or shame or anything to anybody. I just want to bring awareness to the fact that it’s not totally a woman’s issue,” she says. She adds that she has been “a pro-choicer” all her life.

What I took away from this, then, was that if women are going to be shamed for their abortions, Lazzarini believes it’s only fair that men realize their part in the process. The goal, then, would be to lessen the stigma against women who make that oftentimes difficult choice.

While I am personally still unsure how that message may come across in the installation, and unsure of my own feelings on the matter (as Lazzarini and I agreed, these are sticky subjects), I was gratified to know that my initial interpretation of the spirit of the project was wrong.

Lazzarini says she hopes to clarify her message as the project comes together, both for herself and for those who might contribute. “I think as it progresses it will get clearer and clearer to me how to do it. That’s what happened with Women’s Voices; it kept changing over time because I realized what people were thinking and what I wanted to say.”

If nothing else, the message behind this project got us talking, which is the point of art in the long run.

Those who wish to contribute to this project may contact Lazzarini at, or submit through an online anonymous survey.

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