New exhibition coming to Belfast challenges abortion stigma through clothing
1 in 3 women in the UK will have at least one abortion in her lifetime– so why is it so secret?
First launched at the Edinburgh Festival, My Body My Life will make another stop at The Unique Art and Design Shop, Ulster University, Belfast Campus.
Ulster University researchers have teamed up with peers at the Open University, Oxford University, Edinburgh University, University College London and University of Glasgow to create an innovative exhibition that will challenge abortion stigma through clothing and stimulate conversation around access to abortion.
In collaboration with the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), The Family Planning Association, and Alliance for Choice, they have produced a new research-based exhibition, My Body My Life that challenges abortion stigma through clothing. The exhibition will run next month at The Unique Art and Design Shop, Ulster University, Belfast Campus, from 6-9th December.
Borrowing the form of a fashion boutique, the unique exhibition uses clothing to bring a range of abortion experiences to life, representing just some of the nearly 200,000 abortions that take place in the UK every year. The travelling exhibition is based around research on women and pregnant people’s experiences of abortion throughout the UK and features a series of supporting public engagement activities. The programme of events has been designed to stimulate conversation and give context and nuance to the event.
Dr Fiona Bloomer, lecturer in Social Policy at the Ulster University, School of Applied Social and Policy Sciences, added: ‘This exhibition is a fantastic example of how academics can engage with the public about their work. My Body My Life brings this important research into the community, and will broaden public understanding of abortion, a subject that affects so many of us but about which we are often silent. Over the past 50 years, the Abortion Act has enabled thousands of abortion seekers from Northern Ireland to access safe services in England, largely but not completely ending the period of backdoor abortions that injured so many, and killed others. It is timely for us to reflect on the positive impact the Act had, and to think about whether it needs amendment to further ensure women and pregnant people retain control of their bodies and their lives. It also provides an opportunity to reflect on the barriers those from Northern Ireland face including those who cannot travel and it also questions what lies ahead for the future of abortion access in Northern Ireland.’
Most women and people who can get pregnant will have over three decades of fertility to manage, and an unplanned pregnancy can happen at any time for all sorts of reasons. Even an intended pregnancy can become a crisis pregnancy. Abortion is one of the most commonly performed gynaecological procedures in the UK, yet is still controversial and highly stigmatized - and in Northern Ireland the 1967 Act does not even apply.
The organisers hope that by sharing women’s stories of abortion in their own words, the exhibition will challenge the lingering stigma and silence around the subject, and hopefully trigger conversation that inspires empathy for such a complex situation.
Lesley Hoggart, Associate Head of School, School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care at The Open University explained the reason behind the creation of My Body My Life: ‘Although one in three women have an abortion, they may not talk about it. This means they do not talk about how they were using contraception but still became pregnant, how they took emergency contraception but still became pregnant, or a whole host of other scenarios. The reality is that one in 60 women will experience an unplanned pregnancy every year, and abortion is a necessary part of the reproductive control that every woman needs in order to participate equally and fully in society, not being bound to unwilling motherhood. There is nothing to be ashamed of in that. Secrecy feeds abortion stigma, and secrecy therefore needs challenging. This is what we are doing through bringing our research to life in this multi-media travelling exhibition.’
Emma Campbell, Co Chair of Alliance for Choice and artist supports the values of the project: “Alliance for Choice recognise the multiple barriers that abortion seekers face, as well as health, financial, childcare, disability, domestic violence and immigration status we cannot underestimate the effects of stigma. Before people can even begin to address the practical issues that travelling to England or ordering illegal pills entails, they must grapple with the specific societal stigma in Northern Ireland that still assumes all pregnancies must lead to births and wishes to force people to stay pregnant against their will and to the detriment of their physical and mental health, to achieve that aim. Northern Ireland contributes to this mass exportation of women to seek healthcare in England as a part of its wider problem with failing women and the LGBTQI+ community. Projects such as this create a space in which we can safely listen to the real-life stories of abortion seekers, without judgement, and expand the nuance of the conversations on abortion.
My Body My life will run at the Unique Art and Design Shop, Ulster University, Belfast Campus, from 6-9th December. For further information visit: http://mybody-mylife.org
NOTES TO EDITORS:
My Body My life is led by The Reproduction, Sexualities and Sexual Health Research Group at The Open University and the School of Applied Social and Policy Sciences Ulster University, working in collaboration with The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), The Centre for Research, on Families and Relationships at Edinburgh University, The Family Planning Association, UCL Institute for Women’s Health, Oxford University, The Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at University of Glasgow and Alliance for Choice.
The exhibition has been designed and produced by UK-based creative consultancy, The Liminal Space, whose mission is to educate and engage people in important social and strategic issues, in order to deepen their understanding and inspire action. Rooted in the worlds of art, design and academia their methods use art, design and experiential learning to make issues tangible and accessible for a broad spectrum of people.
The exhibition will be run at the Unique Art and Design Shop, Ulster University, Belfast Campus, from 6-9th December from 10am to 6pm.
Evening events will be held on 6th and 7th, December.
Press images available to download at: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/zfz4gel717z6wzs/AACwFqrRcEDIYqB1M13eUAhqa?dl=0
For further information, images, comment or interviews contact: Fiona Bloomer, email@example.com
Experts available for media commentary:
• Dr Fiona Bloomer, lecturer in Social Policy at the Ulster University, School of Applied Social and Policy Sciences
• Dr Lesley Hoggart, Associate Head of School, School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care, The Open University
• Sarah Douglas / Amanda Gore, Directors, The Liminal Space