Can Science Get to the Bottom of the Aliza Shvarts-Abortion Fracas?

By Melissa Lafsky | April 18, 2008 5:01 pm

Aliza ShvartsEarlier this week, Yale senior Aliza Shvarts made headlines with her performance art project, which consisted of artificially inseminating herself as often as possible while simultaneously ingesting abortifacient drugs to induce miscarriages. She reportedly preserved some of the blood from the process, which she claims to be storing in a freezer.

After the blogosphere erupted in outraged shrieks over the project, the university countered with a claim that the whole thing was a “creative fiction,” and that Shvarts was never actually pregnant. She maintains, however, that the project was real, though she couldn’t be certain whether the bleeding events were from abortions or just regular menstruation.

So can we turn to cold, hard science to determine which party is telling the truth? Possibly.

If Shvarts did indeed preserve the blood and freeze it immediately after it was collected, it could be tested for human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), the hormone produced during pregnancy. If she failed to carefully preserve it, however, the hCG could have degenerated over time, making it untraceable.

Another option would be a DNA analysis of the blood. “If you could take a sample of her blood and determine her genetic material, then test the [menstrual] blood against it, if there’s any genetic material there that’s not hers, that would indicate a pregnancy,” says Dr. Michael Ross, an obstetrician/gynecologist in Northern Virginia. “Or you could do a test for Y chromosomes, on the 50/50 chance that [the fetus] was a boy.”

Still, either test might not be conclusive: “If the [blood] has more than one genetic program, you could say there’s an overwhelming likelihood that she’s pregnant—or just that she had sex before collecting the blood,” says Ross. Plus, once again preservation remains an issue, since DNA specimens are notoriously easy to contaminate.

All in all, the costs and hassles of testing (not to mention the likelihood of a contaminated specimen) make it unlikely that Yale will go to the trouble—though, considering all the PR that’s swirled around the scandal, who knows what school officials might do to make it all go away.

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  • Out Wrong

    It is her body.


    She can do whatever she wants with it.

    Why is it OK for a scientist to inseminate an ovum in a petri dish and run experiments and yet it is not OK for a woman to do the same with her body?
    This is an amazing piece of art and anyone who says otherwise is just showing that they are an enemy to liberty and equality.

  • John

    Uh, sure, she can do whatever she wants, I don’t care…but that doesn’t automatically make it great art. I think it’s predictable shock value crap art, and the discussion it stirs up isn’t any more productive than bombing an abortion clinic. I guess that makes me an enemy to liberty. BOO LIBERTY!

  • Alicia

    Ok in that case I’m going to go slaughter a bunch of children and mount their heads on pikes along a highway. I’m going to call it art so therefore, it must be!

  • Art A. Arthur

    It’s not legal to slaughter those children. It would be a strong aesthetic statement, for sure, but it’s also as represhensible an act as you could commit, and we have laws for that.

    Ms. Shvarts, however, is firmly within our country’s abortion law (for now) and our right to free speech, great art or not.

    This ambiguity with the body is a profound thing to stir up, and the (predictable) responses have only reinforced her point: we as a group don’t know if it’s right or wrong. We can’t handle what the body is capable of, and we’re (all of us) treading on uncertain territory right now. Genetic engineering, surrogate wombs, outlawing gay marriage, etc.

    Whether it’s a good piece of art, and whether she was conceiving or not (and whether that itself is moral — I’d say no) this discourse is right on the mark.

  • Gross

    ‘This is an amazing piece of art…’ Ha ha! I’d like to know where you actually SAW it.

  • Aliza Svharts

    It is the intention of this piece to destabilize the locus of that authorial act, and in doing so, reclaim it from the heteronormative structures that seek to naturalize it.

  • Data

    I have to say that I am impressed by the lengths to which she went in order to get her own wikipedia page. I mean, we all talk about it, but she went out and did something about it.

  • Mona

    Dear Alicia, I think you got very serious problems… You must be psychopath because other explanation i cant find… What`s wrong with you ? How can you do that ? Do you belive in God ? Jessusss, girl, get a life!!!!

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  • Karla

    Wow! Aliza, you have definately raised awareness to the issue of choice! Does a woman have a right choose to do whatever she pleases with the life that so miraculously can be created in her? I think you just proved why that is ethically wrong! But at the end of the day what is the difference between you, who chose to abort and then display your own fetus or the woman who chooses to abort and leave her fetus at a cold abortion clinic to be crimated or thrown in a garbage can? Will you have children some day? If so… How will you explain that it could have been one of them, splattered and displayed in a mixture of menstrual blood on some plastic in an exhibit? Hmm… Something to think about…. Unfortunately for you, it is not so much your artistic gifts or creativity that is being discussed but instead your cognitive clarity, in other words… your sanity! I wish you the best. I hope that one day you will find out how miraculous and amazing life truly is. You know that need for attention that you feel, is just be a void that only God can fill for you.

  • Charli

    I heard about this and didn’t want to believe that it was true, so I researched it on the internet and to my horror, was astonished that someone…a human, could so frivolously treat life as nothing more than an attention ploy for people to view her “artwork”. And what is it with people saying…it’s her body???? If that were the case, then why didn’t she just cut her own and use her own blood???? When it comes to dealing with a fetus….the fetus is NOT HER BODY…the fetus is a living baby who has NOT been given any choice. Pro Choice Activists? You should call yourselves Pro-woman’s choice activists …. there is no choice for the baby. It saddens me to think that this country actually allows murder….you can conveniently call it what you want, but it’s nothing less than murder. Where do we stop? What next? And where is OSEA??? At the least, is this not clearly an OSEA Violation???

  • K

    “And what is it with people saying…it’s her body???? If that were the case, then why didn’t she just cut her own and use her own blood???? When it comes to dealing with a fetus….the fetus is NOT HER BODY…the fetus is a living baby who has NOT been given any choice. Pro Choice Activists? You should call yourselves Pro-woman’s choice activists …. there is no choice for the baby.” – Charli

    Excellent statement, Charli!! I totally agree!

  • Ben

    I think the performance art aspect of this is really being overlooked. I don’t think she actually had the miscarriages and I don’t think she is trying to fool anyone into thinking she did. She has made a successful piece of art by saying that she did these things and everyone’s intense reactions are proof of it. I think it is amazing that in the information age an artist doesn’t even actually have to physically make something for it to be received by an audience.

    If she actually had put up the the videos and the blood and all that, how many people would actually have seen the piece, versus how many idiots online would freak out over it?

    (I think that) Saying it exists is the art and therefore we have all “seen” the piece. And if so, I say it is great work of art.

  • Rene Silverman

    Aliza is a very bright young woman and has created a discourse that is so needed in our culture today. I think this piece of art was very successful in fulfilling its purpose, and now she has opened up a dialogue in which we can ask ourselves questions about the purpose of a womans body that we might not have asked ourselves in the past. Not just our bodies, but our rights to stand up for what is ours, what belongs to us, and to do as we please with our lives. Bravo Aliza!!

  • Andrew Thomas

    I am no creationist type, however the thought of abortion as art is akin to sadism. If that is your notion of art then live with it.

  • Vesper

    I don’t know what we’re yelling about…. LOUD NOISES!

  • Elvira

    The Artist never claimed it was science!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Why does science need to get in this. If you need science request science to predict finacial meltdowmn, sub prime mortgage fracas and stock market fracas. Art will not leave you without a home or retirement funds. The other fracas will.

  • Tina

    I need to look into this art more to make a proper judgement – after all there seems to be a lot of heresay and even Yale don’t know what’s going on!

    Miscarriage is a powerful message in art as many women have experienced it. It will always touch a nerve and become emotional debate.

    If what is reported is true I am deeply saddened. Having miscarried myself when I had an IUD put in (i did not know I was pregnant) it raised all sorts of issues of guilt in me – even though it was accidental. Currently she sees this as a motive for art but somepoint down the line she will regret her actions.

    I am unable to have children now and even though it wasn’t my fault it still makes me very sad (9 years later)

    From another angle this is just another ‘artist’ trying to make extreme work to be noticed. As an artist I get so mad when Tracey Emin and contemporarys who make millions from sheer crap. Most talented gifted artists work 12/15 hours a day and still never get the recognition. Yeah call it sour grapes but you search the pages of very talented artists and you will soon see what I mean. Same story. Shock value is what sells sadly not ability.


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