Element of Laia Abril's On Abortion: And the Repercussions of a Lack of Access at Museum of Contemporary Photography
Element of Laia Abril's On Abortion: And the Repercussions of a Lack of Access at Museum of Contemporary Photography Credit: Deanna Isaacs

In startling news today, doctors in Missouri are reporting another confirmed pregnancy in a genetically male human—the latest in a small but growing cluster. 

The expectant dad, 42, says he was completely taken by surprise. He doesn’t know how he and his wife, already struggling to raise four children, will manage another. A cesarean delivery is anticipated in early fall.

You know an April Fool’s lead when you see one, right?

As far as I know, cisgender males aren’t getting pregnant (yet). But if they were, here’s what I do know: abortion would be legal, safe, and easily accessible. The guys would be picking up their abortion pills along with their six-packs at the grocery store, and surgical termination would be no more of a hassle than a visit to the dentist.

In other words, as I’ve said here before, if men had to go through nine months of pregnancy, an excruciating and sometimes deadly birth, and then be responsible for another person 24/7 for the foreseeable future, there’d be no question about their right to opt out. And no qualms about it either.

What brings this to mind? Thanks to Moderna, I finally made my way to “Reproductive: Health, Fertility, Agency,” an exhibition at Columbia College’s Museum of Contemporary Photography, curated by MoCP deputy director Karen Irvine and collections curator Kristin Taylor. On a weekday morning in our empty new world, I was the only visitor there.

“Reproductive” presents eight international artists, all women, all dealing with issues of reproductive “health, fertility, and agency” in the context of an entrenched, often racist, patriarchy. (Like so much else during the pandemic, it’s also had an online presence: five webinars, a few still available at the mocp.org website.) With the exception of some impressively visceral sculptures by Doreen Garner (think glistening hunks of gut-like plastic), it’s mainly photos, text, and video, with each artist displayed in her own space. 

The work ranges from Joanne Leonard‘s witty 1970s miscarriage collages and Krista Franklin‘s bitter reflections on the uterine fibroids that can mimic pregnancy while rendering infertility, to Elinor Carucci‘s portrait of her own severed, liver-red uterus. It ends with Candice Breitz’s Labour—her vision of a “Utopian Matriarchat” with the power to reverse the birthing process and reabsorb any rogue offspring prone to “eruptions of testosterism” (like Pmurt and Nitup—everything’s backwards here). The “de-birthing” is illustrated in four curtained-off booths running childbirth videos backwards.

Breitz’s piece, with its illusion of newborns backing up into the birth canal, is a head-spinner, but it was the work in the first gallery, Laia Abril‘s On Abortion: And the Repercussions of a Lack of Access, that I came away thinking about—in part because she includes a vintage antiabortion poster calling for the murder of Dr. George Tiller, whom I met while covering protests at his clinic in Wichita 30 years ago. Tiller was fatally shot in 2009.

Abril displays images of ad hoc abortion tools (knitting needles, coat hangers) along with photos and text that tell the stories of women who needed abortions in places where getting one was illegal. Meanwhile, a television set on a table in the center of her space plays the soundtrack: a continuous loop of men in power justifying the illegality. Donald Trump is there, advocating “some form of punishment” for the aborting woman, along with former Republican Congressman Todd Akin defending a “no exceptions” policy because, “if it’s a legitmate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

So, given that Trump’s gone but we’re left with his staunchly conservative Supreme Court, where do things now stand? I put the question to Terry Cosgrove, longtime head of the Chicago-based pro-choice political action committee, Personal PAC.

“I think there is no doubt that the U.S. Supreme Court is going to eviscerate Roe v. Wade,” Cosgrove says. “That leaves us, in Illinois, one election away from losing everything.”

What we need to do right now, Cosgrove says, is repeal the Illinois parental notice law, “which terrorizes young women who come from homes where there’s violence and abuse.” But beyond that, “It’s going to be fought out in all 50 state capitols. At least 27 states have already passed laws that will automatically make abortion illegal once Roe is overturned. And there’s going to be more.” Illinois is likely to be the lone legal abortion state left standing in the midwest, Cosgrove says, and even here, “it can all be taken away in the next election. Twenty-two anti-abortion bills were filed in the general assembly in the last few weeks. If it happens that Republicans gain control of the Illinois house and senate, and they also have a [right-wing] governor, they’re going to make abortion illegal here.”

No argument from the other side on that. Antiabortion activist Eric Scheidler (executive director of the Pro-Life Action League founded by his parents) recently told Kaiser Health News that, while this Supreme Court might overturn Roe v. Wade outright, he thinks we’re more likely to see a cumulative series of restrictions.

“I think five years from now we’ll realize that Roe v. Wade was slowly overturned without it ever making a big headline,” Scheidler said.  v

“Reproductive” continues at MoCP through May 23; it’s free, but reservations are required.