My Body, My Life

by | Nov 1, 2017

A new exhibition in Oxford challenges abortion stigma through clothing.

My Body My Life, hosted and part funded by the University of Oxford, opens at the Old Fire Station next month (November 7-11).

Designed to look like 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 first launched at the Edinburgh Festival, and its next stop in Oxford has been designed to mark the 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act, which introduced a set of legal grounds for abortion. 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.

Based on recent Open University research on women’s experiences of abortion, the exhibition shows how easily an unplanned pregnancy can become a part of any woman’s life, how different women have made their decision about having an abortion, and what the process was like for them.

Most women 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 unwanted. 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.

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.’

Alongside the exhibition the Oxford University Law Faculty have organised a series of evening talks and events to give context and nuance to the event, including a panel discussion considering whether and how the Abortion Act should be amended.

Dr Imogen Goold, Associate Professor of Law at the Oxford Law Faculty, added:

This exhibition is a fantastic example of why it’s so important for academics to 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 women to access safe abortion services, ending the period of backdoor abortions that left so many women injured, and sometimes even dead. 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 retain control of their bodies and their lives.

My Body My life is led by The Reproduction, Sexualities and Sexual Health Research Group at The Open University and the Faculty of Law at The University of Oxford, 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, The Institute for Research in the Social Sciences at Ulster 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 open at The Old Fire Station from 7-11 November 2017, 11am-6pm

Evening events will be held on 8 and 9 November


Twitter: @mybody_mylife

Instagram: mybodymylife1in3


Experts available for media commentary:

  • Dr Imogen Goold, Associate Professor in Law, University of Oxford, Fellow and Tutor in Law, St Anne’s College
  • 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

Key statistics on abortion:

  • One in three women in the UK will have an abortion during their lifetime
  • One in six pregnancies among women in Britain is unplanned
  • One in 60 women in Britain will experience an unplanned pregnancy in a year
  • Approximately 180,000 abortions take place in England and Wales every year
  • More than 50% of women in England and Wales who have an abortion are already mothers
  • Approximately 12,000 abortions take place in Scotland every year
  • In Northern Ireland an average of 37 NHS abortions a year are carried out, and about 1000 women travel to England and pay for an abortion. Unknown numbers order the abortion pill illegally online from providers such as Women on Web and Women Help Women and self-abort at home – risking life imprisonment
  • The estimated annual number of abortions worldwide is about 56 million a year
  • One in four pregnancies worldwide end in abortion.

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