‘Abortion Barbie’ is proof women’s bodies are still a battleground

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Last Thursday, conservative street artist Sabo plastered parts of Los Angeles with posters he had designed – life-size images of a nearly naked Barbie Doll complete with a plastic foetus inside her abdomen. He replaced Barbie’s head with Wendy Davis’ face; Davis is the Democrat’s gubernatorial candidate in Texas who Conservative pundit Erick Erickson nicknamed “Abortion Barbie” earlier this year because she stood for 11 hours straight to, as the Huffington Post reported, “filibuster the draconian package of anti-abortion bills.” It was an epic action that garnered her both enormous praise and criticism.

But, and it is a big but, since her 11 hour showdown, Davis has revoked much of what she said and calls herself “pro-life”. She has even gone so far as to support a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. Guess you got to win those votes in conservative America somehow? So why would Sabo use her image? Perhaps Pro-lifers like him are so manic in their activism that they even attack their potential allies?

Apart from the obvious fact that Sabo targeted completely the wrong person in his Christian crusade to slag off pro-choice activists (awkward), he might also like to know Barbie could not stand up to a strong wind let alone carry a child to full term. Fucking twat.

Many artists use art as a weapon in the struggle for social justice, although Sabo is one of the first contemporary street artists to wield it in opposition to social progress – street art has its roots in left wing dissidence.

Artists such as Barbra Kruger, who are just as home in gallery spaces as they are in the streets, have used art to comment on social issues such as abortion long before Sabo ever did. In stark contrast to Sabo’s work, Kruger designed the poster used to rally support against a case heard in the American Supreme Court in the 1970s; a case the Bush administration was hoping would overturn the landmark Roe vs Wade ruling which established basic legal abortion rights in the 1960s.

The poster showed a negative and positive image of a woman’s face with the declarative caption: “Your Body is a Battleground”.

The patriarchal right wing has, despite efforts by such women as Barbra Kruger, used women’s bodies as a battleground for ‘moral dominance’ since the Sixties, thereby creating a disturbing landscape for women’s reproductive rights. The landmark Roe vs Wade ruling has suffered constant attacks. Just last year a house panel, mainly comprised of men, voted to advance a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy across the entire United States of America. 
As Democracy Now reported,

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“…Similar bans are already in place in states across the country, part of an unprecedented tide of state abortion restrictions enacted in the past few years with the goal of challenging Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court and making abortion inaccessible and unaffordable on the ground.”

A report released by “The National Advocates for Pregnant Women” written by Lynn M. Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin found that between 1973, when Roe v. Wade was decided, and 2005, American women have been forced to carry unwanted babies. As Democracy Now grimly pointed out, “The National Advocates for Pregnant Women found 413 cases when pregnant women were deprived of their physical liberty, and at least 250 more interventions have taken place since then.” In one case, a court ordered a critically ill woman in Washington, D.C. to undergo a C-section against her will. Neither the baby nor the mother survived. Effectively this woman, and many more like her, have been deprived of their right to life.

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There is something terrifying about the state taking complete control of a woman’s right to determine her own future.

Kruger created a work in 1982 where the words, “we have received orders not to move”, are superimposed over a woman’s immobile body. The image simultaneously references women’s social status and supplies a feminist retort to the patriarchy’s controlling structures concerned with ‘putting women in their place’.

Forcing women to have children they do not want and often cannot afford is an immobilising action. The aforementioned report found that “low-income women and women of colour, especially African American women, are overrepresented among those who have been arrested or subjected to equivalent deprivations of liberty. As Laurie Penny makes clear,

…“single-mother” is still a synonym for “poor and shunned”, and pregnancy discrimination is rampant in this treacherous post-crash job market. 

The attack on women’s reproductive rights and the right to choice is not limited to America. Britain’s Abortion Act 1967 demands women justify ‘why continuing with a pregnancy poses a threat to her health and well-being or that of her existing offspring.’ Northern Ireland will not even allow an abortion if the pregnancy is the result of rape, or if the pregnancy poses a threat to the mother’s life. Women residing in Northern Ireland, as Laurie Penny, who writes for The New Statesman, has previously pointed out, will often fly to England to gain access to abortion; but the trip is often funded by themselves – many go into debt to buy the procedure.

In New Zealand it is illegal to have an abortion unless a medical practitioner declares the foetus is a risk to the mother’s health or the mother is “mentally unfit” a.k.a. “insane”. As I learnt when I needed an abortion, because “I just do not want a baby right now” is not a good enough reason.

I am done paying penance with the shame and guilt women are expected to bear and feel for the rest of our lives for having an abortion. A woman’s “function” far exceeds her ability to pump out babies. The expectation is that I will be sorry forever ever and ever for having an abortion. I am not sorry, and nor should any other women have to be. Exercising my basic human rights is nothing to be ashamed of.

Women everywhere have always fought, and continue to fight, against right wing abortion politics, pro-lifers and apparently now “conservative street artists” who spread abortion myths and disinformation. Emily Lett, a 25-year old who works as an abortion councillor, recently filmed her own abortion and posted it on YouTube for the world to see. You can hear Lett humming quietly to herself throughout the procedure and at the end she says “I feel good”; as Laurie Penny asserts, “shattering generations of anxiety and fear-mongering around reproductive choice with three simple words.” Abortion can even be a positive experience for some women – given the right support and informed decision making.

Lett is not the only one to use film and social media to fight the stigma surrounding abortion. A vblogger, who goes by the name of Angie AntiTheist, filmed herself having a medical abortion after taking the pill RU486. As Lett pointed out in relation to Angie’s abortion video “[Angie wanted] to show everyone that she was fine, that it’s not scary, it doesn’t hurt, and that she was confident in her decision to do it.”

Wealthy and conservative Kathryn Stuard of Midland, Texas funded the ‘Abortion Barbie’ posters (perhaps she didn’t realise Davis is more an ally than enemy, either?), saying “It hits people with the truth”. ‘Abortion Barbie’ certainly hits people with something, but it is not the truth. A half-naked Barbie with a foetus in her abdomen and a giant pair of scissors isn’t the truth; it is abortion propaganda. It is women like Lett and Angie who refuse to hide their stories of abortion who are hitting people with the truth. They are dismantling abortion myths and challenging the stigma women who have had abortions face.

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22 COMMENTS

  1. Not all prolife people are right-wing. I am definitely very left-wing and it’s my belief in social justice, and the dignity of every human person (born or not) that informs my political views.

    Conflating economic views with the right to life of all human beings is a mistake in my opinion. Just because it happens in the American sphere does not mean it is universal. Personally I find right-wing economics repugnant – sure there is ‘freedom’ but it’s a freedom to starve on the streets or die from curable illnesses, which is actually no freedom at all.

    If anything, the kind of freemarket libertarianism that the GOP proclaims directly pushes women into abortion because caring for a baby is an expensive (if not impossible) prospect in a country that refuses to provide free quality education, healthcare, housing and welfare.

    Perhaps there could be some kind of cross-consensus that women need better support?

    Also I am in favour of relationship & sexuality education. Young people need to know how their bodies work, how their fertility works, and how to prevent pregnancies and STIs. As a natural family planning user and teacher, I’m shocked at how little people know about their fertility. Knowledge is power, and in fertility, knowledge is control.

    • “Conflating economic views with the right to life of all human beings is a mistake in my opinion.”

      Here in NZ women are under increasing social pressure to have abortions in preference to accepting welfare. Despite this abortion is still not legal for economic reasons even when is clear the government would prefer these babies to never be born in the first place.

      Never before have we seen the type of media attacks against single women on welfare. It is almost exclusively a right wing issue.

      • Yup. As a daughter of a mum who brought me up on the DPB I see the Government attacking the most vulnerable of our community and it makes me feel very sad.

        I know it’s cliche but children are our future, and the way to have healthy, happy children is to support their families.

      • @K: “Here in NZ women are under increasing social pressure to have abortions in preference to accepting welfare.”

        How can this be the case if abortion is illegal-but-with-loopholes? Who is exerting that pressure? It cannot be the government: it of all institutions must be seen to be upholding the law.

        I’m aware that Paula Bennett had introduced a scheme whereby some female beneficiaries were being offered long-term contraception. This seems to me to be a good thing, surely; better contraception than abortion. I guess that’s how the pro-lifers would see it.

  2. As I learnt when I needed an abortion, because “I just do not want a baby right now” is not a good enough reason.

    Perhaps it’s an innate desire to not create an ugly baby lol

  3. I remember Aqua getting sued over the song Barbie Girl. The band achieved only a Pyrrhic victory with the case dragged out for years, cost millions and ultimately leading to the bitter breakup of the band. The court did however rule in their favor that it was not breach of copy write but an act of artistic expression.

    Barbie is not the doll a smart person would have chosen to carry the message in the land of litigation. Mattel will have a great case for damage to their brand.

  4. The main reason abortion after 20 weeks is performed only in dire circumstances is because after 24 weeks the babies delivered by abortion can actually live and often do for some time after being delivered ( a normal vaginal delivery after rupturing membranes is the safest way), so you can see how many doctors would have reservations doing the procedure at that stage. I feel current guidelines for terminations are fair. Although technically illegal in NZ the law protects women from backyard abortionists. Abortions up to 13 weeks can easily be negotiated although two specialists who need to say that it would seriously impact on the womans health. This is sensible as an abortion is not without health risks physical and psychological. It is often a significant traumatic life event. Abortions after 13 weeks are much harder. I am pro choice but after 20 weeks it takes a cold heart to let the products of conception die in front of you ( some of them actually try to breathe), but in special circumstances I accept it needs to be done, like after rape or incest. Termination in NZ is also free, but see your GP early if you feel unsure of your pregnancy as it may take a couple of weeks to organize. Termination clinics are inflexible around dates which they take off the ultrasound.

  5. SO NOW I’M A CHRISTIAN AND WENDY DAVIS IS SOMEONE I SHOULD BE SUPPORTING BECAUSE SHE FLIP-FLOPPED ON THE LATE TERM ABORTION ISSUE WHICH SHE BELIEVES IN SO MUCH IN SHE FILIBUSTERED FOR. … ….. RIIIIIIGHT!!

    AND NOW I HAVE TO BE LIKE ALL THE OTHER “STREET ARTISTS” OUT THERE BECAUSE THE WORLD OF ART CAN’T HAVE SOMEONE WITH AN OPPOSING OPINION. OK … AND OF COARSE MY OPINION GOES COUNTER “SOCIAL JUSTICE.” I GUESS I SHOULD JOIN EVERY OTHER LEFT-WING ARTIST OUT THERE SO I CAN HELP PERPETUATE THE NOTION THAT A WOMAN IS JUST A PIECES OF MEAT FOR SCREWING, SHOULD DRESS AND ACT LIKE HOOKERS FROM THE EARLIEST AGES, SHOULD LOOK THE OTHER WAY WHEN EVEN TEENS DECIDE TO SCREW LIKE RABBITS. MAYBE I TOO SHOULD PUSH A HOLLYWOOD LEVEL OF PROMISCUITY THAT LEADS THESE POOR WOMEN INTO THE DOCTORS OFFICE TO GET AN ABORTION IN THE FIRST PLACE. :/ … … … SO I CAN BE JUST LIKE THE REST OF THE “REBEL” ARTISTS OUT THERE, FOR THE SAKE OF “SOCIAL JUSTICE.” RIIIIIIIIGHT ….

    SO NOW BARBRA KRUGER IS MORE OF A HARD ASS, “REBEL” THAN I AM. … GOTCHA!!!

    THE WAS ON WOMEN IS FOUGHT IN THE GROCERY STORE CHECKOUT LINE MY DEAR. ALL THOSE MAGAZINES YOU SEE BRAINWASHING THEIR POOR LITTLE HEADS INTO BELIEVING WHO AND WHAT THEY SHOULD BE. THE WAR ON WOMAN IS BEING WAGED IN HOLLYWOOD, WHERE THEY ARE SHOWN HOW THEY SHOULD LOOK, ACT, THAT SEX IS FREE, AND GOD FORBID THEY HAVE A MAN IN THE HOUSE BECAUSE AS ANY GOOD “PROGRESSIVE” WILL TELL YOU THE ONLY GOD MAN IN THE HOUSE IS THE GOVERNMENT.

    FOR THE RECORD, I BELIEVE A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE THE RIGHT TO DO WHATEVER SHE WANTS WITH HER BODY. I DO ALSO BELIEVE THAT ABORTION IS REPUGNANT, ESPECAILLY LATE TERM ABORTIONS AND ANY SOCIETY THAT VIEWS IT AS JUST ANOTHER PROCEDURE IS DOOMED ANYWAY. ….. I STATE AGAIN, A WOMAN SHOULD BE ABLE TO DO ANYTHING SHE WANTS. HOW SAD THAT “ANYTHING” ALWAYS SEEMS TO BE HOOKING UP WITH THE MOST AND AS MANY SCREWED UP SEXUAL PREDATORS OUT THERE WHO HAVE LEARNED WOMAN NOW PLACE ABSOLUTELY NO VALUE ON THEIR SEXUAL POWER AND JUST GIVE IT UP BECAUSE HOLLYWOOD AND THEIR MAGAZINES HAVE CONVINCED THEM THAT THAT IS THE FEMINIST THING, THE FREE THING, THE “PROGRESSIVE” THING TO DO.

    I THINK IT’S SAD THE FEMINIST MOVEMENT DECIDED TO SET UP CAMP UNDER BILL CLINTON’S DESK AND THERE IT REMAINS. ASK ANY FEMINIST WHAT SHE THINKS OF BUBBA, A DIRT BAG ACCUSED OF MULTIPLE RAPES, AND 90% OF THEM WILL TELL YOU THEY LOVE HIM. UP IS NOW DOWN, RIGHT IS NOW LEFT, BLACK IS NOW WHITE … AND THIS IS HOW THE FEMINIST MOVEMENT DIED. DURING THE MID-90S.

    THE REAL FEMINIST MOVEMENT, NOT THE “PROGRESSIVE” ONE, SHOULD BE UP IN ARMS AGAINST HOLLYWOOD, THE MAGAZINES, AND THE GOVERNMENT THAT ENSLAVES THEM … BUT THEY WONT. THEY WONT BECAUSE THEY’D RATHER WAR AGAINST ME, THE EASY TARGET.

    SABO
    http://unsavoryagents.com

    p.s. I have too much work to do to check my work so deal with the errors.

      • P.S nice bit of slut shaming in your post, you have zero right to tell a women what she can or cannot do with her body. But please tell me how you are different in your art practice, from a mass media that endlessly slut shames and women… kinda just reminds me of the dude who started that FB “women who eat on the tube” and called it art. Wank wank.

    • @ SABO: Do stop shouting, my dear fellow. Your message gets lost in the noise. Besides which, it’s really really annoying…

  6. “Davis has revoked much of what she said and calls herself “pro-life”. She has even gone so far as to support a ban on abortions after 20 weeks.”

    Davis calls herself pro-life using the same pitiful argument most leftists use – accusing her opponents of not caring about the living children. Ridiculous and blatantly false.

    A majority of women in America support the ban and always have. Davis and the far left champion abortion up to birth, which is *why she staged her filibuster. Her argument has never changed.

    Don’t want a child, fine. Pick your butt up off the chair, go get the birth control freely available on any given street corner, and *use it*.

    Do not fight for your right to kill another human being while being to cowardly to even name it – instead referring to abortion with euphemisms like “birth control”, avoiding any reference to the real victim by directing attention to “your body”, and attempting to dehumanize the child by using some ridiculous anti-science argument about when life truly begins.

    You’ve moved from conception, to heartbeat, to brain development, to “viable outside the womb we’ve just removed it from”, to quite literally whether the child can survive independently of the parent, retain a lawyer and get it’s existence notarized so it can appear in court to get it’s “personhood” legally recognized. Meanwhile the same crew protects turtle eggs, because apparently developmental biology *does occasionally make an appearance in the liberal argument.

    • Do you realise that birth control isn’t perfect? Short of a woman having a hysterectomy there is always a possibility that she can get pregnant.

    • @ Kim Veldt:”Don’t want a child, fine. Pick your butt up off the chair, go get the birth control freely available on any given street corner, and *use it*.”

      I’m delighted for you that control of your fertility is so straightforward. Unfortunately, it isn’t true of many – perhaps most – women.

      It isn’t for you to tell the rest of us what we should do with regard to contraception; nor should religious views such as yours underpin the legality (or otherwise) of abortion laws here.

      You’re perfectly free to see abortion in religious terms, and engage with the issue on those terms. But the rest of us must be able to access safe, legal abortions, whatever our reasons for doing so may be. We don’t live in a theocracy, after all.

      It really isn’t your business – or mine, come to that – if other women wish to have an abortion. Stay out of it: keep your opinions to yourself.

  7. It appears that the author of the piece doesn’t know a thing about the abortion fight in the state of Texas that propelled Davis to sudden fame. Maybe a little more research is in order, but she probably doesn’t care enough to actually get the facts.

    Nice intellectual honesty you’ve got going there.

  8. Well spoken Sabo & Kim . I’d like to vote you up 100 points each.

    Chloe are you worried that there aren’t ENOUGH abortions the world over? Is millions upon millions not enough ? You want late term abortions as well? The ones where a nearly full term baby is half delivered and has it’s spinal cord severed to kill it- because it’s a woman’s “right” ??

  9. Really Chloe, I am so OVER this abortion NON ISSUE.
    The true reality is that anyone can have an abortion , even in NZ. All they have to do is play the game right. What’s so difficult about using the right words to play the game?
    I have NEVER heard of anyone being refused one.
    Abortions are here to stay. Therefore it’s a NON ISSUE.
    BUT… abortions are really a disgusting and immoral end remedy for an immoral culture that promotes sexual promiscuity amongst even the very young of society today.
    It is only very few that are a result of actual rape, and nobody would argue with that kind of case.

    • Are you serious? I just gave you examples of women being denied abortions? I even linked to a report to back up my claim. Abortion is not a non-issue it is a major issue.

      It does not matter why a women wants an abortion, she should be able to have one whatever her reason. it is her body, her choice.

    • @ Cassie: “The true reality is that anyone can have an abortion , even in NZ. All they have to do is play the game right. What’s so difficult about using the right words to play the game?”

      Given the legal situation surrounding abortion, this cannot be so; you undermine your own argument by asserting it. What you claim here implies that many medical professionals involved with certifying abortions are acting outside the law. This sounds slanderous to me, and I daresay said doctors might take exception at having their professional reputations so impugned.

      “… abortions are really a disgusting and immoral end remedy for an immoral culture that promotes sexual promiscuity amongst even the very young of society today.
      It is only very few that are a result of actual rape, and nobody would argue with that kind of case.”

      You do see the inconsistency in what you’re saying here, don’t you? You can’t, on the one hand, claim that abortions are “disgusting and immoral”, but, on the other hand, say that abortion is OK in rape cases. You can’t have it both ways, I’m afraid.

      It seems to me that your views on abortion put you firmly in the Catholic camp. Go look at the Vatican website: their philosophical stance is very clear and consistent. Abortion is always and everywhere wrong. This is the line you must take: no loopholes.

      But of course this view of abortion is essentially religious. It cannot apply to the rest of us who aren’t religious.

  10. The unborn child is no less deserving of the “Your body is a battleground” statement than the mother who carries them.

    Calls for liberalisation of the abortion law legitimise right wing policies that contribute to the mother’s situation.

  11. Why are so many, mainly men, so obsessed with western women’s reproduction? Millions of women and girls are dying all over the world from starvation, gang rape, sexual slavery, fmg, unsafe birthing conditions etc etc yet they remain silent on these.

    • @Nomush: “Why are so many, mainly men, so obsessed with western women’s reproduction? Millions of women and girls are dying all over the world from starvation, gang rape, sexual slavery, fmg, unsafe birthing conditions etc etc yet they remain silent on these.”

      Curious, isn’t it? This by itself should alert women to the fact that such men aren’t interested in women’s health and wellbeing. What they’re obsessed with is exerting control over women.

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