The artist blazed into Portugal’s 1998 abortion
referendum with powerful images of women in backstreet clinics. But there is no
blood, no gore – just feeling. The works may have helped swing a later vote
Thu 9 Jun 2022
In 1998, the year of a Portuguese referendum debate on abortion, Paula Rego
poured her fierce, formidable passion into 10 large paintings set in backstreet
abortion clinics. These were a direct gesture of protest at the cruelty of
anti-abortion laws. Focused on individual women positioned on single beds in
improvised operating theatres, the paintings of the Abortion series are so dark
and claustrophobic that you can almost feel the heat and stickiness, and smell
the adrenal sweat.
Rego pulls the focus of the abortion debate back to the woman’s experience.
There is no blood, no gore, no biological nastiness to see here: this is all
about feeling, both physical and psychological. First-hand discussion of
abortion remains taboo even 24 years later – Rego’s works carry us into the
heart of this unseen, unspoken terrain.