(Disclaimer: discussion about abortion, some may find it upsetting)
This is the name of a Romanian film that we went to see a couple of weeks ago at the Glasgow Film Theatre. I’d been trying to see it all last summer while I was in Romania (narrowly missing the opportunity to attend a showing with the director and main actors, thanks to turning up at the box office only an hour after it opened to find that tickets had been sold out 20 minutes earlier), and was really glad to have the opportunity to see it at last. It won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival last year, and lots of other awards since, and there is all sorts of huffing and puffing going on in the Romanian press that it wasn’t nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars this year.
It’s based in 1987, in the last few years of the Ceausescu regime in Romania, and follows two friends, one of whom has arranged to have an abortion, which from 1966 until the revolution in 1989 was illegal in Romania due to Ceausescu’s desire to increase the population – the unwanted children who ended up in orphanages were another result of this sick extreme pronatalism, many of them handicapped due to the result of unsuccessful abortion attempts. Many thousands of women died from the complications of illegal abortion – usually haemorrhaging or infection – and many others (along with the people who performed them) were jailed. The film is just about the one day that the abortion takes place (in a hotel room).
So, as you can imagine, it wasn’t an evening of light entertainment. Far from it in fact. But I have to say I think it is a really important film – I found it really authentic in its oppressiveness (Romanians I have spoken with who lived during those times have also said this) and Anamaria Marinca who plays the friend gives an absolutely outstanding performance. It’s not one for the squeamish (there is a lingering shot of the aborted foetus towards the end), but most of the unpleasantness is off-screen – either you know what is happening and that’s enough, or you don’t know what’s going to happen and it’s really tense.
What happened in Romania between 1966-1989 is why I can’t just be simply pro-life. What has happened since the end of 1989, when it was made legal (abortion rates are still high, and even though they’re coming down, the rates of non-use of modern reliable contraception are scarily low still, so abortion is in effect used by many as a form of contraception), is why I can’t be simply pro-choice. In an ideal world there would be no need for abortion as all women and men would be educated and empowered to make effective contraceptive choices and have access to effective contraceptive methods so that no child would be unwanted. But this isn’t an ideal world, many people don’t have the education or freedom to make those decisions or ability to access those services, and governments don’t always prioritise sexual health and family planning services so that even when people want better contraception it simply isn’t available to them. I’m sure I’ve said it on this blog before, that I tend towards the more liberal end of the conservative view – abortion is wrong in an ideal world, but in the non-ideal world we live in it should be safe, legal and rare (I think that phrase is from Hillary Clinton). When I saw an abortion on TV a few months ago, I couldn’t watch, everything in me was crying “no!”, but making it illegal isn’t the answer. I’ve got too much experience of Romania to ever be able to agree that making abortion illegal is anything other than inhumane. I think the problem with the pro-choice/pro-life duality is that only one party is accorded rights, either the mother or the child, and so the debate is never anything other than totally polarised. It’s messy, but I don’t think you can look at one set of rights without considering the other. I’m not sure that that will make the debate any less polarised though – it’s going to stay messy for a long time yet.
When I started this entry I just intended it as a film review, I think I got a bit carried away (hence the disclaimer at the beginning, added later!). I don’t know what the answers are. But I don’t think the polarised answers that dominate the debate at the moment offer a full solution either way. All I can do is try to think about where I (and the Church, and people of faith) fit in, and how we can best bridge the gap between the pro- and anti- brigades – not as an intellectual chin-scratching exercise that makes us feel worthy, but because there are real people and real lives – adult and child – behind the debates.
Incidentally, if you know the book (and film) “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Attwood – although fictional and set (I believe) in the future, it was inspired by the Romanian extreme pronatalist policies.