In the spirit of International Women’s Day, RoSa, a feminist library we recently covered in our Best for Public Librairies feature, has unveiled their archive of visuals, postcards, songs, stickers, and pamphlets on abortion ranging from 1970 to 1990 for the occasion. Thanks to RoSa’s expert team of librarians and archivists, they disclose, explain and contextualise 21 punchy and pertinent visual documents relating to the abortion movement of the second wave of feminism. Established in 1978, RoSa is the go-to point for all things gender studies and feminism in Belgium. Time’s up.
All visuals provided courtesy of RoSa.
Decriminalising abortions was one of the most important demands from the second wave of feminism, between 1960s and 80s. In no time, abortion became an important issue in the public debate and surfaced high on the political agenda, with both fierce supporters and opponents. Marches took place, leaflets were distributed and parties were held to raise awareness for abortion or pro-life rights. For example, on 11th February 1978 a pro-abortion concert of six hours with various artists took place in Brussels’ Schaerbeek / Schaarbeek.
On 31st March 1979, a march was held for abortion and contraceptive rights in Brussels. Activists embodied the famous slogan, de vrouw beslist! (“the woman decides!”) to fuel the protest.
The Abortuskomitee Vlaanderen, or Abortion Committee of Flanders was heavily involved in the pro-abortion movement. Its activities aimed to raise awareness around women’s reproductive and abortion rights. This specific benefit took place in Brussels’ francophone university ULB to raise funds for the committee, as well as to establish an abortion clinic.
Many marches were held between the 1970s and 90s to advocate for women’s reproductive freedom, including abortion on demand, like this march organised on 5th March 1977.
In 1978, politician Leona Detiège submitted a bill to decriminalise abortion, for which she received death threats. Flemish abortion committees supported Detiège by distributing this postcard to ask for public support, with her bill printed on the back.
This pamphlet of left-wing women’s organisations looked back on the successful pro-abortion demonstration that was held in Ghent on 4th March 1978. The organisations supported the aforementioned Detiège bill to decriminalise abortion.
A postcard from Wij Vrouwen Eisen (“We Women Demand”) with the following demands: the decriminalisation of abortion, as well as making the procedure fall under health insurance.
A sticker supporting abortion rights with the famous slogans Abortus uit het strafrecht (“Abortion from criminal law”) and Abortus vrij: de vrouw beslist (“Free abortion: the woman decides”).
Another pamphlet from Abortuskomitee Vlaanderen with the demand to legalise abortions.
A sticker with the famous protest slogan, Abortus: de vrouw beslist (“Abortion: the woman decides”).
The Abortuskomitee Vlaanderen held a day of action focusing on the following issues: the decriminalisation of abortion, empowering women’s rights to their bodies, increasing awareness and motivation for proper contraceptive use, improving sex education, covering abortion in health insurance and the establishment of regional centres where safe abortions would be provided.
A postcard from women’s organisation Dolle Mina The Netherlands with the famous protest slogan Baas in eigen buik, or “Boss of my belly”. The decriminalisation of abortions was also one of Dolle Mina’s key demands.
Dolle Mina The Netherlands addressed the pro-life organisation Stichting voor het ongeboren kind in 1972: “It may be an awkward question, but what would have happened if the mothers of Hitler, Johnson, Nixon, Agnew, Eichmann, Mussolini, Papa Doc, Franco etc. had underwent abortion? The world would have been much nicer.” Plus, a complementary drawing with the famous protest slogan “Boss of my belly”.
Prior to 1990, when abortion was still considered a criminal offence, the arrest of Dr. Willy Peers in 1973 for performing abortions produced a strong public reaction. This poster questioned the morality of putting women who underwent illegal abortions and the doctors who carried them out behind bars. “Do you agree?”
The Abortuskomitee Vlaanderen regularly sang a pro-abortion song on events: Abortion free, the woman decides. Abortion, abortion, remove abortion from criminal law. Knitting needle or abortion clinic? Abortion clinic! Abortion covered by health insurance. Boss of my belly.
Pro-abortion material made its way across city streets, like this sticker from Agitat-kollektief: wij willen lust zonder last en kinderen als ‘t ons past (“We want lust without unruliness, and children when it suits us”).
Within the women’s movement, abortion was both a common goal and a cause of conflict: many joint demonstrations were organised, yet tensions would still arise between the different women’s groups. On National Women’s Day in 1976, with the theme “Abortion – the woman decides”, Christian associations chose to stay away.
An advertisement for Stimezo, an abortion center in Rotterdam, in Dwars, Dolle Mina The Netherland’s print magazine. The aim was to raise funding for the founding of an abortion clinic, to provide safe access and post-operation care, and to end unsafe abortive practices like the use of knitting needles.
On 24th February 1978, the francophone public broadcasting organisation RTB wasn’t allowed to broadcast an episode of à suivre that focussed on abortion. A petition was held by Amazone to demand the broadcasting of the documentary before 10th March.
This cartoon from Abortuskomitee Vlaanderen depicts the pamphlet’s overall argument that doctors who performed abortions were being put behind bars for no reason. The arrest of the gynaecologist Willy Peers in 1973 lead to vehement protests and demonstrations. Why was Dr. Peers arrested “for doing good”; while doctors like Hoffmann (a pseudonym), who raped women while under the influence of anesthesia, were free to go to the annual mussel fest to brag about his “sex life”?
The abortion rights bill of Belgian senators Lallemand and Herman-Michielsens was approved on 30th March 1990. King Baudouin infamously refused to sign the law and resigned for 48 hours. Today, women have the right to terminate a pregnancy in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy without being prosecuted.