From: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - Aug. 3, 2004 edition
'I had an abortion' T-shirt stirs debate
Some offended, others empowered by declaration | By SCOTT WILLIAMS; Aug. 2, 2004
For abortion-rights advocates, the latest strategy in bringing that element of women's health care out of the closet involves something from inside the closet.
A T-shirt emblazoned with the simple message "I had an abortion" is becoming a hotly debated method of helping women overcome the stigma often associated with ending a pregnancy.
Designed by a political activist with roots in Wisconsin, the T-shirt is being marketed by Planned Parenthood, with about 400 sold.
Abortion opponents in Milwaukee and elsewhere are horrified by what they perceive as women boasting cold-heartedly about ending the lives of their unborn children. One local group bemoaned the tactic in a recent newsletter to its followers.
But abortion-rights supporters say the T-shirt is a statement to critics who heckle and belittle women for taking advantage of a health care option that has been legal for 30 years.
"It's not a cavalier declaration," said Lisa Boyce, vice president of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. "It delivers a message that is intended to confront and subvert the sense of shame."
Originally designed for an abortion-rights rally this year, the T-shirt later went into production and has stirred backlash in recent weeks from opponents of abortion.
"It's a sad day for humanity," said Barbara Lyons, executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life.
At Planned Parenthood headquarters in New York, officials said they have sold more than 200 shirts in the past week, on top of about 200 sold previously by the designer.
Designer is Lawrence grad
The designer is an abortion-rights activist who once exercised her political activism on a Wisconsin college campus.
Jennifer Baumgardner, a 1992 graduate of Lawrence University in Appleton, is now a New York author who writes frequently on women's issues and has co-authored a book called "Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and the Future."
Baumgardner, 34, who grew up in Fargo, N.D., said she got tired of hearing stories about how having an abortion left women feeling embarrassed or scorned because protesters had called them "baby haters" and worse.
The T-shirt, she said, is a bold statement that having an abortion is a medical procedure for which no apology is needed.
"In any town there are women who've gotten abortions," she said. "It's probably people we know and love."
Brady Nichols of Madison, an old college friend of Baumgardner, was not surprised that she would be involved in something so controversial. He remembers her demonstrating outside women's health clinics during college, confronting abortion foes who were trying to disrupt the clinics.
Nichols, a high school teacher who is supports abortion rights, said he was impressed by her T-shirt design.
"I think it's a pretty brave thing," he said.
Baumgardner says her next project is a documentary film featuring women telling about their decisions to have abortions.
The Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973 in the Roe vs. Wade decision.
Abortion-rights supporters say the T-shirt, in a way, answers the shock tactics of opponents who demonstrate outside health clinics carrying large images of bloody, dismembered fetuses.
But even some women who applaud the empowering message of Baumgardner's T-shirt are hesitant about walking down the street with the words "I had an abortion" on their chests.
Robin Ringleka, 30, of Chicago said she bought a T-shirt recently and plans to wear it to a women's issues rally. But she fears that wearing it to the grocery store or the mall would provoke a harsh response from critics, maybe even physical violence.
"This is so new, who really knows," she said. "I imagine I will wear mine."
Planned Parenthood officials said they have received no T-shirt orders from anyone in Wisconsin. The organization sells the shirts for $15 on the Internet.
Peggy Hamill, executive director of Pro-Life Wisconsin, said she hears far more stories from women who regret having abortions than those who are comfortable and willing to broadcast it publicly.
Hamill said the T-shirt made her feel disgusted, although she said it probably represents an effective political tool in the ongoing battle over abortion rights.
"In trying to rub our noses in something that is very distasteful, yeah, they're doing it," she said. "Looking at something like this, I think we've still got a long way to go."