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April 17, 2008

"Abortion as art" a hoax? Update: Yes

What do you want to bet that this is a hoax?

Art student Aliza Shvarts claims that she induced multiple miscarriages for her senior project at Yale--according to a story in the Yale Daily News, linked above.

Allegedly, the sperm came from donors whom Shvarts declines to identify. She says she used  "legal", "herbal" preparations to induce these miscarriages "as often as possible" over the course of nine months, but never consulted a doctor about her plan.

The "fabricators," or donors, of the sperm were not paid for their services, but Shvarts required them to periodically take tests for sexually transmitted diseases. She said she was not concerned about any medical effects the forced miscarriages may have had on her body. The abortifacient drugs she took were legal and herbal, she said, and she did not feel the need to consult a doctor about her repeated miscarriages.

Shvarts declined to specify the number of sperm donors she used, as well as the number of times she inseminated herself. [Yale Daily News]

The Daily News was unable to reach Shvarts' senior-project adviser before press time. So, really all we have to go on is the Daily News' account of the student's description of her project. It just so happens that there is no medical record of her experiment. She claims that she inseminated herself, but she won't say where she got the sperm. (Even if the events unfolded exactly as described, there would be good medical reasons to doubt whether she ever conceived.)

This whole story seems tailored to whip up conservative hysteria. It's as if someone came up with a formula that incorporated all their favorite bugbears: Irresponsible sluts, frivolous abortions, liberal academia, and self-indulgent performance art.

If this is a hoax, someone is playing a very dangerous game. There are a lot of violent "pro-lifers" out there. The story has gone viral. It's been picked up by the likes of Michelle Malkin. I've already seen one blog post calling Shvarts a "murdering Jewess."

I have to question the editorial judgment of the Daily News for running this piece without at least getting an official comment from the art school or Shvarts's supervisor about the nature of her project.

[HT: Jill at Feministe.]

Update: The Washington Post published a story on the Shvarts case this afternoon. It's a rehash of the Daily News story with a few new comments. Still no word from the academic adviser.

Update II: Josh Gerstein of the the New York Sun got an official reaction from Yale. The  Shvarts abortion project is a hoax:

"Ms. Shvarts is engaged in performance art," a Yale spokeswoman, Helaine Klasky, said. "She stated to three senior Yale University officials today, including two deans, that she did not impregnate herself and that she did not induce any miscarriages. The entire project is an art piece, a creative fiction designed to draw attention to the ambiguity surrounding form and function of a woman’s body."

Ms. Klasky went on to suggest that Yale would not have permitted a project of the sort described in the student newspaper. "Had these acts been real, they would have violated basic ethical standards and raised serious mental and physical health concerns." [NYS]

The anti-abortion zealots, the Washington Post, and half the Internets got got by an undergraduate performance artist. Sweet.

Update III: According to the Yale Daily News, Shvarts maintains that the Yale officials didn't get it quite right in their press release. She claims she injected herself with sperm, but she admits she had no evidence that she was ever pregnant. I'm still not buying the DIY insemination story. She says she never went to a doctor. I doubt a college student can just wander into a sperm bank and pick up a monthly batch of gametes. What did she do, take up a Dixie Cup collection in the dorm? Or, maybe you really can buy Formula 401 from the Colbert Report... Sure, whatever. Meanwhile, the project supervisor is still AWOL.

 

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Comments

There's some good commentary at Bitch PhD about how it's unlikely that she actually conceived very often (if at all). Does it change the impact of the project if she miscarried 0 or 1 versus 8 times? (The whole thing creeps me out, but I have to admit that I feel like there would be a difference if she never actually conceived.)

Maybe you should take a trip out to New Haven to see the exhibit (if Yale dares to run it, what with the crazies that will be showing up if it's really true).

Hm, a couple of observations:

1) ...a nine-month process during which she artificially inseminated herself "as often as possible"...

The frequency of insemination is irrelevant. You could soak in semen for 9 months, if you're not ovulating there's no fertilization.

What counts is how many times she ovulated [and how exactly was that determined? The OTC urine kits aren't reliable enough when you have the wild hormone fluctuations--ovulation/fertilization/abortion/repeat x n--claimed here.].

2) ...these forced miscarriages...

Right. Even if we assume ideal conditions* (regular ovulatory cycles; 100% fertilization rate; repeated complete abortions; immediate return to regular ovulatory cycle), over a 9 mo period we are talking about 2 (maybe 3) terminations.

*[This is an extraordinary assumption, one we shouldn't make without some evidence.]

3) The abortifacient drugs she took were legal and herbal...

Those are some magic herbs, right there! You don't have a 100% success rate with RU-486/misoprostol, but munch on some weeds and, presto, 2 (3) completed abortions one right after the other. [For example, as powerful as these herbal drugs are to induce an abortion, they have no effect on the onset of subsequent cycles?]

4) ...lined between layers of the sheeting will be the blood from Schvarts' self-induced miscarriages...

In other words, there's no evidence for a termination. [I'm not saying a pathology report should accompany an art project; I'm saying you can't just look at blood and diagnose an abortion.]

My thoughts exactly. The only possible way she could have conceived so frequently is through some insane sci-fi medical experiment administered by a very specialized medico. Forget about the "abortions," there is the question of other potential damage to her body. Whatever "herbs" she was taking could be extremely dangerous alone or in combination with over the counter drugs, prescribed drugs, alcohol and/or recreational drugs.

Also, it must be a very small project. At an average of 6 weeks-old, these "abortions" are only 2/3 of the way to the fetal stage.

I'm thrilled to see it took no time at all to turn anti-Semtic. Not. I'm sure the crazies will be railing against the "elitists" at Yale for "encouraging" this.

-AF
Andrew Sullivan Is A Fraud
TypePad hates me.

Thank you. I keep getting emailed about this, and the second you start to actually think about it, it's clear it's a hoax.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silphium

Vaguely related to the discussion -- Silphium is a now extinct type of fennel that was used in the Roman Empire to induce abortion.

It was fairly impossible (apparently) to grow on plantations or farms, so the herb could only be harvested from wild plants. Its usefulness drove it to extinction.

how much you want to bet the REAL "performance art" is the hysteria she generates with this crap?

I think her art project is announcing this art project to the media.

You called it.

I pray to god she knew what she was doing, which was exposing the anti-choice nuts for idiots who will believe ANYTHING that fits their maudlin, irrational worldview.

At least it's not Harvard. All their scams. The last name sounds like she has escaped gas. The value of impregnation should be obvious. Insane people reproducing more insane people. If you don't, your supposed to get money. Now it's dangerous.

Heh. Isn't it insane how, when soldiers report on atrocities being committed in Iraq, the right-wingnuts go batshit crazy trying to discredit them, but when something as outré and obviously made-up as this comes along, they go batshit crazy calling the woman responsible a murdering Jewess?

Well, I'm not as smart as you and Amanda. My excuse is that someone sent it to me before I'd had my coffee. In any case, it's a brilliant piece, but yeah: I hope her number's unlisted.

--they go batshit crazy calling the woman responsible a murdering Jewess?--

Who's "they"? One guy on one blog?

What's a "right wingnut"? Do you think that those who are very anti-abortion are all very pro-war? Do you really?

Sadly, the virulently anti-semitic comments aren't limited to Curt "Murdering Jewess" Maynard and his sicko commenters. The Vanguard News Forum has some really nasty anti-semitic comments as well. So does Stormfront, of course. A blog called Truth In Our Time calls for the "Jew" to be "hung from the highest tree in Connecticut."

Google if you're curious because I'm not linking. Too much like turning on a flashlight in a dark room.

We've already got one derogatory reference to Shvarts' last name in this thread.
Here's a mild example from a comments thread: Old Lady at Stand Firm In Faith.

I ranted a bit here, against the people ranting at Shvarts:

http://badgermama.blogspot.com/2008/04/contraception-and-miscarriage-art.html

and here

http://badgermama.blogspot.com/2008/04/inconceivable-really-intense-reactions.html

I like her project and think that the massive outburst against it and the artist is instructive.


In fact it is pretty bizarre right here in the comments how people are obsessing about how many conceptions/abortions were possible. It's so not the point.

Well, the YDN article you linked in update #3 says:
1) She inseminated herself with needle-less syringes.
2) She took drugs to make herself miscarry.
3) She collected her menstrual blood and saved it in her freezer.
4) The YDN reporter witnessed the videos she's going to show.

That doesn't sounds like she made the whole thing up (especially with a reporter seeing the videos). But at this point, the only thing I can say for sure is that, if Yale is dumb enough to let her display her show next week, it'll be the best attended senior project presentation in school history.

But Shvarts reiterated Thursday that she repeatedly use a needleless syringe to insert semen into herself. At the end of her menstrual cycle, she took abortifacient herbs to induce bleeding, she said. She said she does not know whether or not she was ever pregnant.

I have to ask, what exactly are the biology">http://www.milexproducts.com/images/products/fertility/36-1.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.milexproducts.com/products/fertility/insemination_cannula.asp&h=122&w=200&sz=5&hl=en&start=14&sig2=f59GuZ-ouImJg6ea8GOHmg&um=1&tbnid=ZaJ_fOlWiCx6pM:&tbnh=63&tbnw=104&ei=ax0ISNm-O4aWigH2uMSmCw&prev=/images%3Fq%3D%2522insemination%2Bcannula%2522%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DX">biology requirements for Art majors at Yale?


Badgermama,

We weren't "obsessing about how many conceptions/abortions were possible." We were discussing the likelihood of it being a hoax and why we thought so. At that time we didn't know. As it turned out we were right. It was not possible. This is a hoax.

I confess to being somewhat troubled by this strange and dangerous way to try to make a point. I fail to see how this furthers the cause at all. That the project perpetuates the aforementioned stereotypes is the least of it. It does nothing to further discourse on this issue. Instead it's the equivalent of taking a stick and whacking a huge hornet's nest.

Look, I'm all about the Right To Choose and sticking it to the conservatives. I also come from a long line of sly pranksters. But I think making yourself a public target for some mentally imbalanced wingnut is at best ill-conceived. Remember, we may know it's a hoax but there's too many on the other side of the debate who trust MSM less than we do. The "hill folk" only believe what they tell each other. They don't have much in the way of a sense of humor either.

As for the stunt itself...If Shvarts did in fact use her "needle-less syringes" DIY methodology as she claims, it was damn near pointless. As Lindsay noted sperm samples don't grow on trees. Nor do they remain viable for long outside of the body. For starters, sperm is really temperature sensitive. It's highly susceptible to contamination too. These and any number of other factors can in minutes drastically cut the number of motile swimmers.

-AF
Andrew Sullivan Is A Fraud

Hitler was an artist before he led the Holocaust.

Yale is the home of Skull & Bones (members include Prescott Bush , George Bush Sr. & Jr)

Yale requires OB/GYN students to learn & perform abortions.

Yale shamefully permotes nazi eugenics theories in the currirculam.

Yale blatantly advertises abortions hoax or otherwise.

Shame on Yale!!!

Shame on Aliza Shvarts!!!

Killing for art is a crime against humanity.

Congrats, Lindsay. The time you've invested with all of those skeptic's organizations has obviously paid off.

I think the whole thing is kind of sick and in outrageously bad taste. All she has done is make the pro-abortion forces look kind of nuts. In other words, she gave the anti-abortion folks a sword.

Uncle Jack's Reason #12 why "performance art" is really neither.

Couldn't she have saved us all the trouble and simply tattooed "I really love being the center of attention" on the middle of her forehead?

"What did she do, take up a Dixie Cup collection in the dorm?"

You think this would be hard? Or that some fellow art student wouldn't be proud to do his part for the cause?

As for the overall question of what's really going on, note that the story can be true and a hoax at the same time.

That is, it's perfectly possible that this woman did everything she says she did, just as she describes it, and yet it had no overt effect (for the reasons previously mentioned: unlikely to get pregnant, unlikely to abort with herbal whatever, unlikely to do it repeatedly), and that she knew it wouldn't work before she started all this. What she has done is create an at least distantly plausible scenario involving her deliberately starting and terminating her own pregnancies repeatedly, even if the likelihood that she really carried a fertilized zygote at any time is low. Given that she at least exposed herself to that possibility and went through the motions of then terminating each possible pregnancy*, there's enough provocation there that those who are inclined to get worked up about it can and will do so, and those who are not concerned about it can prove it by staying calm.

So in that sense, and with the understanding that the project was intended to provoke people's reactions to the casual control of one's fertility both positively (getting inseminated) and negatively (terminating it), the project may have been perfectly "real". The insemination/menstruation process was (maybe) real, and just (sort of) plausible enough that it was worth reacting to, if you had a reaction. But it was safe enough (i.e., useless) that she wasn't taking a risk with her health. And she couldn't have done the project any other way. People's reactions to this one, though somewhat gullible, are "real" reactions to a real, or at least possible (barely), situation. If she had just put up a poster with a hypothetical question on it ("If I were to get pregnant and then terminate it just for the hell of it, how would you feel?"), their reactions wouldn't be authentic. By going through the motions of actually getting pregnant and actually terminating it - even if both were ambiguous and unlikely - she confronts people with a real, not hypothetical, situation to respond to.

Of course, all this founders on the report that she has recanted her claims under pressure from two Deans and at least one other administrator - but then, she'd have to. I'm at least as inclined to think she lied to the Deans as that she lied in her original project.


* Really, just inducing menstruation - note that she says she took the herbs "at the end of her menstrual cycle", which seems to suggest she was merely menstruating naturally or performing ordinary menstrual extraction - there's no reason to think any of those menstrual cycles was actually a miscarriage.

It would be pretty difficult for her to recruit sperm donors on her own, if unprotected sex wasn't part of the bargain. I doubt even the most far-out Yale art student would take her up on the offer, "How about you give me some of your sperm remotely so that I can get pregnant and abort?"

"It would be pretty difficult for her to recruit sperm donors on her own, if unprotected sex wasn't part of the bargain. I doubt even the most far-out Yale art student would take her up on the offer, "How about you give me some of your sperm remotely so that I can get pregnant and abort?""

Mm, I gotta totally disagree, sorry. Art students (I speak from experience) will do a LOT to participate in/help each other out/be part of/have their name on art projects. Especially if a free hand-job is involved. And she says she had a definite list of co-participants (I forget her term) for the project, and you can bet at least one of them might likely create an art statement about placing his sperm into a "void space" or having it "kidnapped by the Muses," etc.

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