Ms. Paul told the story of a friend, a mother of two in Park Slope, who had an unplanned pregnancy and decided to terminate it. She wrote an essay about the experience, but had a hard time selling it to a woman’s magazine. “People did not want to hear about someone with children choosing to have an abortion,” said Ms. Paul. “Abortion is very much démodé.”
(National abortion numbers have been falling steadily since the ’90s, down from 1.6 million in 1990 to 1.2 million in 2005, the most recent data available from the Guttmacher Institute.)
“It’s good news when abortion numbers drop and it has positive feminist implications, which have to do with better birth control and fewer unplanned pregnancies,” said Jennifer Baumgardner, 39, a former editor at Ms. magazine, an author of many books, including Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future, and the creator of the “I Had an Abortion” T-shirt. “On the whole, we’re in a good place: Abortion numbers are dropping, women are aware of their options and you can have a baby out of wedlock.”
Annie Horcasitas, 29, who worked at a women’s health clinic that performed abortions when she was in college, agreed. “You never really hear women talking about abortion until it comes up in the health care bill. It’s not really a hot-button issue,” said Ms. Horcasitas, a teacher who now lives in Central Harlem with her husband and two sons (a two-and-a-half-year-old and a 2-week-old) and runs a blog called RealMommyChronicles.com. “I think that means we’ve made it if we don’t need to talk about it all anymore.”
A’yen Tran, 29, used to wear her “I Had an Abortion” T-shirt (she had two in her early 20s) as an undergraduate at Barnard. She offered an explanation for the current lack of discourse on women’s rights: “Gloria Steinem says in some ways ambivalence is a function of legality, which I think is right. Young women can ignore that they have access to abortion and not realize how much those rights are threatened all the time. I don’t know if women are putting themselves second so much as they are just less vocally fighting for the right to have abortions.”
Currently a project manager at a media design firm, Ms. Tran, who lives in Fort Greene, said she doesn’t wear her T-shirt anymore. “I think I would be less ready for the fight or less interested in the fight,” she said. “I guess I’m just more focused on other things.”
Of course, the Faminist tribe tends to congregate in cities, like this one, where reproductive rights are a given. An op-ed in The Times this past weekend revealed that Nebraska, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Florida have quietly moved to restrict access to abortion.
“What flies in Park Slope and the Upper East Side is very different from most Americans,” Ms. Paul said. “So the idea that woman as an individual is not a political issue is willful ignorance.”
‘BABIES, BABIES, BABIES’
“Motherhood is in the saddle,” said Fear of Flying author Erica Jong when The Observer reached her by phone last week. “There is a whole pop-culture trend towards maternity. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt having six, seven, whatever. Jennifer Lopez having twins, Nadya Suleman having a whole bunch and then eight more. Babies, babies, babies. You can always make the cover of a magazine if you have a baby. Even I, who got these hideous attacks for leading women down the garden path to embrace their sexuality, when I had a baby in my arms, my press changed. First I was the happy hooker of literature—then I turned into Mother Theresa. You don’t get bad press when you’re holding a baby.”
Before the time when magazines put babies on the cover, they used to—sometimes seriously, sometimes humorously—cover women’s rights issues. Think of Glamour under the esteemed Ruth Whitney; the now little-noticed Ms.; and the defunct Jane and Sassy and YM, which used to have a section called “Why Me?” in which young women sent in embarrassing stories of skirts getting stuck in their pantyhose, tampons falling out of their bags and other silly tales (usually in the presence of “crushes”) that defined young womanhood.