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The Statesman


Artistic expression in post-Roe America: how creatives are taking a stand


Planned Parenthood Generation Action’s (PPGA) table covered in pro-choice stickers at the Sex and Relationships photoshoot. Many artists, musicians, writers and other creatives have expressed their attitudes toward the United States Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade through artistic expression. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

On June 24, 2022, the United States Supreme Court abandoned the almost 50-year precedent of the constitutional right to abortion with Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Two monumental cases — Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey — were overruled in this decision. This marks the first time that the Supreme Court has “taken away a fundamental right,” as the U.S. no longer federally protects the right to an abortion. As a result, state governments now have the authority to enact laws that ban women from accessing this fundamental medical procedure.

In our post-Roe society, many pro-choice advocates have conveyed their disappointment in the Supreme Court’s decision and are actively grieving the immense loss of the freedom to choose. Amid the public reactions to this overruling, many artists, musicians, writers and other creatives have expressed their attitudes toward the Court’s ruling. As we approach the second anniversary of the Dobbs decision, creatives in the United States continue to express their responses to this ruling through their work.

The Tulane University School of Liberal Arts featured an exhibition of artwork by Louisiana artists titled “Artists Respond: Post-Roe Louisiana” from Oct. 4-28, 2022. The exhibition featured over 30 paintings, photographs, sculptures and other forms of media that portrayed a multitude of reactions to the decision, as well as pieces of artwork that were created before the overruling but still demonstrate similar themes of frustration over a lack of women’s rights. A panel discussion and reception also accompanied the exhibition on Oct. 13, 2022.

One of the most intriguing pieces in this exhibition was Odessa Blackmore’s painting “La Femme Fetal” (2022), which features a half-bird, half-woman shackled inside of a birdcage with an egg between her legs and a cross on her lower stomach. The woman characterized as a caged bird highlights the heightened feelings of oppression and confinement resulting from the overruling of Roe, as it restricts the freedoms that Roe provided for those seeking an abortion.

From Jan. 20 to Aug. 13, 2023, the Brooklyn Museum featured artist Mary Enoch Elizabeth Baxter’s musical documentary “Ain’t I a Woman” in a two-part exhibition that examined the U.S. history of reproductive injustice and the overturning of Roe. The opening of this exhibition “deliberately” aligned with the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and its overruling that same year. Baxter’s film features a music video of an incarcerated woman giving birth in shackles. Through this multidisciplinary piece, Baxter comments on the systematic violence against women — especially women of color — and the denial of their right to choose if and when to have children.

Baxter is not the only artist to use music to express their resentment toward the Supreme Court due to the Dobbs decision. Pop singer Demi Lovato released a song titled “SWINE” on the first anniversary of the monumental ruling. In a post on X (formerly known as Twitter), Lovato said that she “created ‘SWINE’ to amplify the voices of those who advocate for choice and bodily autonomy.” The pop-rock song’s chorus asserts, “My life, my voice / My rights, my choice,” strongly emphasizing a person’s right to choose despite Roe’s overturning.

Despite Lovato’s intentions of criticizing the Supreme Court, many have expressed their disapproval of the song. Critics have argued that her lyrics, “It’s mine, or I’m just swine” indicate that without the right to choose, a woman is no more useful than a pig — or any birthing animal — in society. This animalistic comparison can come off as dehumanizing and offensive to those affected by the Dobbs decision.

At the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the photography exhibition “The Last Safe Abortion” by Carmen Winant was displayed from Aug. 5 to Dec. 31, 2023. Winant’s exhibition includes “hundreds of historic, archival and contemporary photographs taken across the Midwest,” spanning from Roe’s ruling in 1973 to the Dobbs ruling. The impact of the Dobbs ruling is emphasized through photographs, capturing healthcare workers and clinics, women in mundane situations, inspirational quotes and picket signs that display pro-choice messages such as “Abort the Patriarchy” and “Motherhood by choice, not chance.”

Winant views this project as unique compared to others in her portfolio, as she is using her art to comment “in real-time in regard to the real-world stakes.” She also desires to build a “new visual language around abortion” using her photography.

Writers have also penned their frustrations in the aftermath of the Roe overruling. Ashley Wurzbacher’s powerful article “Writing Characters in a World After the Repeal of Roe v. Wade” describes her difficulty with writing her novel that featured a female protagonist, Jada, who obtains an abortion in the “decline and fall of Roe v. Wade.” Wurzbacher desired the “right to plan” and “independent agency” while writing — an ironic sense of control that she and her character had in the writing process but that women in the U.S. no longer had over their bodies. She hopes her novel “insists upon the dignity of choice” by providing bodily autonomy to her characters and advocating for women’s autonomy in the real world.

The Post-Roe Monologues” is a play with music written by obstetrician-gynecologist Mimi Zieman and directed by Maria Torres. The one-night-only performance of this play was on Nov. 6, 2023 at the Kaufman Music Center in New York City. Drawing inspiration from Zieman’s first-hand experiences as a reproductive healthcare professional, “The Post-Roe Monologues explores the real-world consequences of the overturning of Roe v. Wade.” The performance intended to inspire empathetic responses to the reproductive healthcare crisis resulting from the Dobbs decision. In addition to raising awareness of and starting conversations about this issue, the proceeds of the play were donated to the National Abortion Hotline and Choice Matters — two resources for abortion referrals and advocates for abortion rights.

In the wake of the consequential overruling of the Roe and Planned Parenthood cases, a surge of reactions and responses through creative work has underscored the importance of the right to choose. Considering the continued legal restrictions imposed on reproductive health — such as the recent Alabama Supreme Court ruling on frozen embryos — people can unfortunately expect to see similar rulings in the future, especially with the impending 2024 Presidential Election.

Artists will continue to use such monumental legal decisions as inspiration for their work, hoping to capture the attention of citizens and lawmakers. Their work highlights the emotions and consequences associated with legal principles that rule the decisions people can make about their bodies and reproductive healthcare.

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About the Contributor
Olivia Erndl
Olivia Erndl, Copy Chief
Olivia is the Copy Chief of The Statesman, as well as an occasional Opinions writer. She previously served as an Assistant Copy Chief and a Copy Intern. She is a junior English Teacher Preparation major in the English Honors Program. She is also a member of the Alpha Nu Zeta English Honor Society at Stony Brook. When she is not editing, you can find Olivia listening to music or hanging out with her cat.
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