UMich Exhibit Celebrates 4000 Years of Reproductive Choice

Illustration for article titled UMich Exhibit Celebrates 4000 Years of Reproductive Choice

University of Michigan is displaying an exhibition of posters by artist Heather Ault, all of which are dedicated to the long and storied history of abortion and contraception use by women. Exercising reproductive agency is a tradition that extends back 4,000 years, hence the exhibit's name: "4,000 Years for Choice."


According to the project's website, the posters "highlight stories about abortive herbs, such as Artemisia, pennyroyal, aloe vera, and Queen Anne's lace, tell stories about contraceptive devices, such as condoms, diaphragms, IUDs, cervical caps, and quote sentiments from notable figures" in order to educate people about the substantial history of "women's reproductive empowerment, wisdom, and self-care." Doing so, writes Ault, will help us understand "women's deeply ingrained desire to control pregnancies for the good of ourselves, our relationships and our families."

Obviously, the installation has gotten at least one conservative blogger's fetus-emblazoned knickers in a twist. In an article on conservative college news site The College Fix, Vivian Hughbanks accuses the exhibit of "defending and glamorizing abortion." (The comment section on this one is really fun: "She's Satan's favorite kind of messenger," says one of the milder user responses. "Confirming the modern Nazi is a feminist in hiding!" reads another.) But, seriously, if this exhibition shows us anything it's that abortion will always exist, whether or not we defend it. Women have been terminating pregnancies for millennia, and restricting their access to safe abortions won't change that — it will just endanger them. The data support this: according to a Guttmacher Institute report, highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates, just with remarkably higher instances of abortion-related deaths. Pro-life indeed.

The University of Michigan declined to answer The College Fix's inquiries regarding whether "an alternative viewpoint will also be addressed on campus." Hey, anti-choice bloggers — if you're so worried about bias, why not make your own poster display? It could be a fun DIY project: just cut out any of the numerous headlines about abortion restrictions advancing in national and state legislatures and paste them onto images of sexy Jesus! You could call it "4,000 Years of Oppression."

Images via


Stephan Zielinski

According to the project's website, the posters "highlight stories about abortive herbs, such as Artemisia, pennyroyal, aloe vera, and Queen Anne's lace,

Because even as I type this, I can hear people typing in the question: yes, there are plants that will end a pregnancy. Unfortunately, they have a nasty tendency to kill the patient outright, or have severe side effects like hitting the liver hard enough that it's likely to fall to something else in a couple years time. Even when there is a therapeutic range window such that it's possible to end the pregnancy while merely incapacitating the patient for a week or so, it's nearly impossible to hit it with raw plant products; plants vary a lot in how much of any particular pharmacologically active substance they produce. Shoot, just getting the right plant in the first place is tricky; see DNA barcoding detects contamination and substitution in North American herbal products.

There is no safe way to terminate a pregnancy with herbs. (For a value of "safe" equal to "With levels of risk acceptable to 21st century standards.") That's one reason we don't use them any more. Conversely, there are a lot of ways to use "herbs" to FAIL to terminate a pregnancy while doing great harm to the patient. Don't try it.