About the Project

What is the Sparrow Project?

The Sparrow Project is the collection of people’s personal abortion accounts and artists’ responses to abortion. These will be curated into a small and sympathetic exhibition planned for 2019. My vision for this exhibition is a simple display of words and images in a chapel-like space (non-religious).

What is the point of the Sparrow Project?

The Sparrow Project is an invitation to engage deeply, thoughtfully and compassionately with the abortion debate.

We speak about abortion in terms of rights — the rights of women and the rights of the embryo — but it is taboo to speak of the experience itself. We have very little record of the thoughts and feelings of those who make this decision. This silence reinforces stigma.

Abortion is a private and personal experience but by anonymously sharing your story you can help to broaden the understanding of this complex decision. Abortion is still a crime in New Zealand unless a woman is certified mentally or physically unfit for pregnancy. It is time for us to grow beyond that.  The insight you can provide is invaluable.

Why an exhibition?

Words on walls belong to us all. Exhibition in a public place validates these stories. They become something that we own as a community and part of our social psyche. The exhibiton space also provides for peaceful contemplation that transcends argument.

Why is it called the Sparrow Project?

The name pays homage to Dame Margaret Sparrow, a pioneer in sexual health and abortion rights in New Zealand, but the project is not directly or personally connected with her. The sparrow is a light and non-threatening emblem. Much like abortion, the sparrow is an everyday part of our landscape.

During the incubation of this project, a friend told me about the art work of Annette Messager. Messager made a famous piece of installation art depicting dead sparrows in knitted wraps and jumpers in the 1970s. This piece examined and honoured the everyday unseen. Her work often addressed the subjugation of the female body. She and her art have been described as follows:

Messager chooses instead to ruminate on the secrets of women, on the private rituals and ablutions they devise in order to maintain a sense of themselves in a world of male privilege.

Messager, herself, said this about her sparrows:

“Like the people I love, these small birds were always around me, yet they remained strange and mysterious. So I picked up the sparrow, took it home and knit a wool wrap for it. Why? I can’t say. You want to do something and don’t know why–all you know is that you have no choice, that it’s a necessity.”

That’s how I feel about this project.


Where did the estimate of one in four women come from?

In 2016, the total abortion rate for New Zealand was 399 (Statistics New Zealand http://www.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/health/abortion/AbortionStatistics_HOTPYeDec16.aspx). This means that a group of one thousand women will have, between them, an average of 399 abortions in their life time (assuming they experience the age-specific abortion rates of a given period, usually a year). Because some women will have more than one abortion, the proportion of women who have an abortion in their lifetime will be lower than 39% (399 out of 1,000).

Statistics show that in any given year, around 60-75% of induced abortions are a woman’s first abortion.  We could use this as a basis for estmation. If we estimate that two thirds of those 399 abortions are for women who have a single abortion in their lifetime, this suggests that an average of 266 women in every thousand will have an abortion in their lifetime (26.6%). That is one quarter of the female population.  This is not a statistical calculation but as an estimate, it is likely to be very reasonable.

A recent BBC Radio Four documentary reported a rate of one in three. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p056c6p8 )




Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash.