Media Hoaxed? Yale Disputes Student’s Artwork Purporting to Show Abortion

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A Yale University art student’s claim that she induced repeated abortions on herself and used the blood for her senior project is false, school officials said after her account was published in the student newspaper.

Aliza Shvarts described the project in a story Thursday in the Yale Daily News. She said she artificially inseminated herself “as often as possible” while taking herbal drugs to induce miscarriages, the story said.

The account swept across blogs and media outlets before Yale issued a statement saying it investigated and found it all to be a hoax that was Shvarts’ idea of elaborate “performance art.”

“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,” said Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky.

But in a guest column published in Friday’s student newspaper, Shvarts insisted the project was real. She described her “repeated self-induced miscarriages,” although she allows that she never knew if she was actually pregnant.

“The most poignant aspect of this representation ? the part most meaningful in terms of its political agenda (and, incidentally, the aspect that has not been discussed thus far) ? is the impossibility of accurately identifying the resulting blood,” she said.

“Because the miscarriages coincide with the expected date of menstruation (the 28th day of my cycle), it remains ambiguous whether … there was ever a fertilized ovum or not. The reality of the pregnancy, both for myself and for the audience, is a matter of reading,” she wrote.

Shvarts told the newspaper she planned to display a work that consisted of a cube lined with plastic sheets with a blood-and-petroleum-jelly mixture in between, onto which she would project video footage of herself “experiencing miscarriages in her bathroom tub.”

University officials said Shvarts’ project included visual representations, a news release and other narrative materials. When confronted by three senior Yale officials, including two deans, Shvarts acknowledged that she was never pregnant and did not induce abortions, Klasky said.

“She said if Yale puts out a statement saying she did not do this, she would say Yale was doing that to protect its reputation,” Klasky said.

Shvarts told the paper her goal was to spark conversation and debate on the relationship between art and the human body.

Andrew Mangino, editor-in-chief of Yale Daily News, said the newspaper published the story after receiving a news release about the project. A reporter interviewed Shvarts and other students and saw photos and video that she said was part of the art project, he said.

“At this point it’s just he said and she said,” Mingino said Friday. “The problem seems to be in the ambiguity of what each side is saying.”

Shvarts could not be reached for comment. Her telephone number was disconnected and she did not respond to e-mails or a knock on the door at the address listed for her in the campus directory.

Groups for and against abortion rights expressed outrage over the affair.

Ted Miller, a spokesman for NARAL Pro-Choice America, called the concept offensive and “not a constructive addition to the debate over reproductive rights.”

Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, an anti-abortion group, said his anger was not mitigated by the fact that Shvarts may never not have been pregnant. “I’m astounded by this woman’s callousness,” he said.

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