Thursday, April 17, 2008
By Catherine Donaldson-Evans
A Yale student who claims she artificially inseminated herself "as often as possible" and then took drugs to induce miscarriages for her senior art project says she will showcase the stomach-turning display next week — complete with her own blood samples and videos from the terminated possible pregnancies.
The story of art major Aliza Shvarts' upcoming exhibit, which the Yale Daily News broke Thursday, has sparked widespread disgust and outrage.
"It’s clearly depraved. I think the poor woman has got some major mental problems," said National Right to Life Committee President Wanda Franz. "She’s a serial killer. This is just a horrible thought."
Critics on campus have said the display sounds like a shock-and-awe look at the highly sensitive issue of abortion and called it a sick stunt to get attention.
But Shvarts said the goal of the project is to encourage debate and discussion about the connection between art and the human body.
"I hope it inspires some sort of discourse," Shvarts, whose age was withheld, told Yale's newspaper. "Sure, some people will be upset with the message and will not agree with it, but it's not the intention of the piece to scandalize anyone."
Shvarts' campus phone has been disconnected, and she did not respond to e-mailed requests for an interview. Yale University and the abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America also did not return calls seeking comment.
Shvarts told the school paper that her sperm donors, whom she declined to identify, were not paid for their participation but added that she did require them to be screened for STDs.
The drugs she took to induce contractions and miscarriages were legal and herbal in nature, according to Shvarts — who didn't specify what they were. The art major insisted she wasn't concerned about the effects of her research on her own body.
But ob-gyn Dr. Manuel Alvarez, FOXNews.com's health managing editor, said the young woman should have been worried because what she was doing was extremely unsafe.
"It’s quite dangerous," Alvarez said. "She was playing Russian roulette with her life, if she indeed did this to these unborn children for the sake of art. I don’t even have the words to express the disbelief that I have."
Alvarez said herbal remedies to trigger uterine contractions have long been used in countries where abortions are illegal — including certain raspberry teas and strong cinnamon teas — but they are far from consistently effective, and they tend to be risky.
"They interfere with pregnancy and are either toxic to the fetus or cause contractions," he explained. "The reason they are effective is that they create side effects, but none of them are 100 percent prescriptive to be abortive."
Shvarts wouldn't say how many times she was artificially inseminated and actually got pregnant for the project — which she described to the Yale paper as a huge cube hanging from the ceiling and swathed in plastic sheeting smeared with her blood from the reported miscarriages. The existence and number of pregnancies Shvarts may have had weren't independently confirmed.
Videos taken of what the college student says were self-induced abortions in her bathtub will be projected both on the cube's sides and on the gallery walls.
The exhibit will be on public display from April 22 to May 1 at Yale's Holcombe T. Green Jr. Hall. Shvarts will be honored at a reception April 25.
Franz likened Shvarts' process of artificial insemination and induced miscarriages to the human experimentation that took place during the Holocaust. She said the Yale senior's work highlights a stark truth about American society's approach to abortion.
"She really has hit on a reality that what she has done is legal," Franz said. "Anything she chooses to do here can’t be stopped in terms of legality. And there are people fighting for her right to do this."
Alvarez believes such an endeavor in the name of art is offensive, harmful and insensitive, especially to women who face difficult choices about pregnancy or who aren't able to conceive.
"Anybody who trivializes a woman’s choice to terminate a pregnancy is really not contributing anything positive to these matters," he said. "I don’t see anything artistic about this. ... It’s completely unethical and immoral. What have we accomplished? Absolutely nothing."