We’re continuing with our Abortion Conversations interviews, which were held following the recent Body of Work: Abortion Conversations exhibition.
The exhibition was hosted by Marie Stopes in conjunction with Amnesty International and EASI, the End Abortion Stigma Initiative, as part of the city’s First Thursday initiatives.
Body of Work: Abortion Conversations features artists who have developed pieces specifically on the topic of abortion. Here, artist Gillian Basson discusses her artwork.
Gillian Basson: art, women and contraceptive responsibility
The onus constantly falls on women to make contraceptive choices, says Gillian Basson, and this was the message she wanted to get across in her artwork.
“My artwork is about the choices facing women because contraceptive decisions are always placed on our shoulders,” says Gillian, referring to her piece. It depicts abortion pills, morning-after pills, a pregnancy test and a hand with two tablets in it.
“The hand with the pills signifies the constant choices that we have to make, but we do still have a choice, especially in South Africa. I wanted people to know that women can go and have a legal abortion – that choice is available to them. But, combined with this, I wanted them to know that there are options to prevent pregnancy in future. What can you do next time to help ensure you don’t fall pregnant again?”
Although men can go out and buy condoms, women can too, says Gillian – but the pressure shouldn’t always fall on women to make the responsible choices. “People need to realise the stress that’s constantly on us as women, and that’s what I was trying to provoke with my art. I want people to realise that women have to remember to take the pill, or replace their contraceptives, or decide what to use. Men don’t have to think about it.”
How art gives a voice to abortion
When it comes to abortion, many women are scared, believes Gillian. “Women are left to make choices alone, and if they choose abortion, they may be shunned by their communities. I realised that people don’t like talking about abortion, so if you engage with someone and say ‘I’m creating art about abortion’, they say, ‘That’s dumb!’ or ‘No, we can’t talk about that’, or simply, ‘Abortion isn’t right; you have to have the baby.’ This is why so many women are afraid to make the choice – and may also go to unsafe abortion providers as a result.”
Gillian uses the trains in Cape Town, and regularly sees stickers and flyers promoting illegal abortion providers. “It really annoys me because I know it’s unsafe and I’m one of the lucky few who would have the support of my community if I were to fall pregnant and didn’t want a kid.
“It’s a huge issue because people are afraid to have a safe, legal abortion for fear of being shunned by their communities. How much do women suffer because of this? How does this impact on suicide rates? By stigmatising abortion, you’re taking away a person’s human rights, because if a woman can’t afford to have a child, how much would that impact on the child once it is born? It’s a chain reaction that carries on and on, and promotes poverty, health issues, and a whole array of problems that wouldn’t be there if people had support in accessing legal abortion options.”
Safe, legal abortions are available at Marie Stopes
At Marie Stopes, we offer safe, legal abortions up to 20 weeks into pregnancy. If you’re considering your options, you’ll always find information, support and understanding at our centres.