"We Have Had Abortions"

Boldly Declared in the Pages of Ms.

1972: Members of the New York women's Liberation Army demonstrate on a street corner to demand abortion rights
1972: Members of the New York women's Liberation Army demonstrate on a street corner to demand abortion rights. Peter Keegan/Keystone/Getty Images

Yedited, with significant additional material, by Jone Johnson Lewis

In 1972, when the premiere issue of Ms. magazine was published by Gloria Steinem and others, abortion was still illegal in most of the United States. Nonetheless, several dozen women chose to sign their names to “We Have Had Abortions,” a statement declaring that they had each, in fact, had an abortion.

A Call For Change

“We Have Had Abortions” was a petition to the national government and a way to raise awareness.

It was also an attempt to bring about social change. One tactic used to keep restrictions on abortion in place was making abortion discussion “taboo.” Barbaralee Diamonstein, the author of the piece, wanted to release the subject from this taboo. The goal of publishing the list was to take the abortion issue out of secrecy and into the public sphere and public consciousness.  Ms. wanted legislators and others to know that influential women, women in their own communities, and possibly women in their own families, had already had abortions, even with them being illegal.  

Real Women Have Had Abortions

Illegal abortions caused the deaths of thousands of women every year. More than 50 women signed the “We Have Had Abortions” statement, in the form of a petition, and requested readers to join them in a “campaign for honesty and freedom.” The well-known women included famous feminist Gloria Steinem and other prominent figures such as Nora Ephron, Lee Grant, Lillian Hellman , Billie Jean King and Anais Nin.

Where the Petitions Were Sent

The signed petitions as received by Ms. were sent to the President, to members of Congress, and to members of state legislatures.

French Example

The Ms. Magazine petition was modeled after a manifesto published in 1971 in Paris, with 343 prominent women declaring that they had had abortions.

Abortion Rights as a Feminist Issue

Roe v. Wade would not be decided until January 22, 1973.  Feminists were still debating whether to reform or repeal abortion lawsAbortion on demand was among the calls of the feminist movement. Illegal operations like the one known by the code name Jane were the only way some women could get abortions.  Poor women especially often had to resort to self-induced or "back alley" abortions.

The founders of Ms. and other feminist activists of the 1960s and early 1970s worked hard to bring attention to the issue of reproductive freedom. The lifting of restrictions on abortion became one of the demands of the Women’s Liberation Movement. One year after the Ms. premiere issue, in 1973, the Supreme Court decided the case of Roe v. Wade, which struck down many abortion laws and legalized first trimester and some later abortions.

We Had Abortions, 2006

In 2006, Ms. magazine, concerned about new state laws banning abortions or making abortions more difficult especially for poor and rural women, invited women to join in another "campaign for honesty and freedom," with another petition and again collecting stories of women who had abortions. Again, the petitions were sent to national and state legislators and to the President.

First Issue of Ms.

In addition to this essay, the first issue of Ms. Magazine included other memorable essays, such as "I Want a Wife", "The Housewife's Moment of Truth", and "De-Sexing the English Language".