Arts & Life Editor

One in three women in the United States will have an abortion by her 45th birthday. Each woman has her own story and Melissa Madera is willing to listen.

Madera, a Laura C. Harris Fellow in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, is the founder of The Abortion Diary podcast online, which inspired her art exhibit, “Artifacts,” currently displayed at the Denison Museum.

For her podcast, she travels all over the U.S., and more recently, abroad, speaking to women who want to share their abortion story. She listens to each woman’s story, records it and posts it online unedited. Listeners hear raw stories from real women who share every emotion and detail about their experience.

The podcast, launched in 2013, currently has 129 recorded stories online. Madera lets these women have a space to be heard, something Madera did not have when she had an abortion at the age of 17. “People don’t talk about abortion…I felt very alone in my experience,” said Madera. 

13 years after her abortion, she finally broke her silence. Once she shared her story, other women opened up to Madera. She then realized she knew many women who also had abortions. Beginning with her own social network in New York City, Madera listened, and her podcast was born. Now, Madera meets with women all over the world. 

“We are all very different. Our stories are so complex. Listening to people and being connected to them makes me feel part of a community, which is very important,” Madera said. 

“Artifacts” presents artistic expressions of abortion experiences made by the women Madera interviewed. 

A handwritten letter to an unborn child, poems and comic books, a doll hand-stitched in the shape of a cat with “VIOLATE ME” written on its stomach and a body mold of a woman’s pregnant stomach before getting an abortion are displayed in the white-walled room at the Denison Museum.

Visitors can listen to the voices of women who share their stories on iPads. People can sit in an antique chair, pick up the rotary phone next to it, and listen to a member of the Jane Collective, an underground abortion service, describe her work before the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973.

Madera believes these artistic artifacts and recorded stories “disrupt common notions and popular narratives about abortion.”

These audio stories, images and objects gathered over the past two and a half years began with Madera’s commitment to listening to women. Madera has been listening, and now she wants the world to listen too.

Photo courtesy of Savannah Delgross/The Denisonian