The last months, I have been coordinating a project that perfectly combines my work in the arts with my interest and activism in sexual and reproductive rights. It is a national awareness campaign about abortion stigma, in relation to the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Belgian law concerning pregnancy termination in 2015.
The actualization of this law came after a very long period of feminist activism, public debate and outrage, political procrastination, catholic obstruction and even a short but precarious constitutional crisis. Nowadays, Belgium has a solid system of easy access to safe abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy which is covered by health insurance. Moreover, it is one of the three countries with the lowest abortion rates worldwide. Still, the taboo persists.
On April 3 2015, LUNA and IPPF Europe, two associations in the field of abortion care and sexual and reproductive rights, jointly organize an international conference about abortion stigma in Brussels, in relation to the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Belgian abortion law.
The primary aim of the conference is to introduce and discuss the issue of abortion stigma on several levels; the topic will be enclosed and highlighted from the perspective of women who had an abortion as well as from professionals working in abortion care. Furthermore, the prevalence and mechanisms of abortion stigma in different regional parts of the world will be discussed. Lastly, abortion stigma in Belgium will be tackled in relation to the 25-year old legislation, and a resolution with points for the (near) future in regard to abortion care will be presented to Minister of Health Maggie De Block. Thus, a current state of affairs in research and in practice will be given, which can be of interest for professionals, academics and activists as well as for people who are simply interested in this topic.
Speakers at the conference are dr. Anne Verougstraete, MD (Sjerp-Dilemma, VUB, Erasmus Hospital Brussels; chair woman), Vicky Claeys (IPPF Europe), prof. Piet Bracke (Dep. Sociology, UGent, Ghent), dr. Anu Kumar, PhD, MPH (Executive Vice President IPAS), Krystyna Kacpura (Executive Director Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning, ASTRA Network), Jon O’Brien (President Catholics for Choice) and Ann Furedi (Chief Executive BPAS).
Now, the campaign I came up with and organized for LUNA and IPPF, was inspired by the action “No More Names”, set up in 2012 by the English organization BPAS (British Pregnancy Advisory Service). Here, photos of various women were combined with the slogan “How do you call a woman who’s had an abortion ? Mother. Daughter. Sister. Friend. Abortion: no more names ” (more info can be found on www.bpas.org/nomorenames).
For our version we have retained the basic idea of the BPAS campaign. However, we did not work with professional models but instead launched a call to Belgian women who had an abortion and who agree to be photographed. This call coincided with the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion (Sept. 28th) and was immediately picked up by all important news outlets in Belgium. All portraits were taken by Belgian art photographer Charlotte Lybeer and a team of five young colleagues: Ulla Deventer, Eva Donckers, Vesna Faassen, Ingrid Leonard and Valentina Stellino. I am extremely grateful to these people for all their efforts and their commitment and I am stunned by the beauty and diversity of all the portraits.
At this moment, photographer and graphic designer Charlotte Boeyden is compiling the photos into an image, which will be combined with the slogan “25 years abortion law in Belgium – For your sister, your friend, your daughter, your colleagues, your mother“. This image will be distributed to the press and used for all activities around the conference organized in 2015.