“It highlights the fear and pain and danger of an illegal abortion, which is what desperate women have always resorted to. It’s very wrong to criminalise women on top of everything else. Making abortions illegal is forcing women to the backstreet solution.” Paula Rego, The Guardian, 2019.
In 1998 a referendum to legalise abortion in Portugal failed. Paula Rego, who spoke openly about her own abortions in the past and had seen people suffer after undergoing illegal terminations, was angry with the outcome. In response, she created a body of work, including paintings, pastels and etchings.
Her eight etchings, which appeared in several Portuguese newspapers in the lead up to a second referendum on abortion in 2007, brought the debate back to women's experience, drawing attention to the dangers of making abortion illegal. The effect of the series was so powerful that it has been credited with helping sway public opinion to form a second referendum in 2007 which legalised abortion.
The power and pain conveyed in these etchings seem only too relevant today.