Tag Archives: abortion

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days

(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.

Wiblog entry for 22/10/2007

(Warning, non-silly post following)

The other night I stayed up and watched the Dispatches programme on abortion. Partly because the subject is of some relevance to my research, and partly because I’m still trying to figure out where I am in terms of what I think about it as an ethical and moral issue. Having (as I mentioned last month) recently been living in a very conservative environment where abortion as an issue is a complete no-brainer – it’s just wrong, full stop, the end – I wondered how the usually rather liberal Channel 4 would treat the subject. Interestingly, although it seemed to claim it was just an objective look at abortion law in the UK, it seemed to have made up its mind beforehand that the gestational age should be lowered (in the UK abortion is legally available up to 24 weeks’ gestation, one of the most liberal abortion laws in Europe – in many other countries it’s only available up to 12 weeks) and treated the liberal pro-choicers much more harshly and rigorously than I expected. Of course they showed the obligatory prayer meeting/picket outside an abortion clinic but apart from that the Christians shown didn’t seem to come across as too loony at all, and it was some of the pro-choicers who came across as defensive and with arguments that weren’t up to the challenge.

Partly I think this was a bit unfair and sneaky on behalf of the programme makers. They were particularly pushing a particular doctor’s research (on foetal pain), and I have to say that whilst the research is rigorous and interesting and possibly – probably – crucial to the debate, basing an argument on just one piece of research is not wise (just look at what happened with the MMR vaccine – I won’t get started on that as it will make me froth at the mouth, it wasn’t even good or remotely credible research which this foetal pain study looks like it could well be, but caused a ton of damage).

However, I do also feel that, with this subject where views are so polarised, with so little airing of the grey areas in between the “I’m right, you’re wrong” “No I’m right and you’re wrong” bits of the debate which are the only bits which seem to get heard, it is good in a generally liberal environment for the liberal view to be challenged as well as the conservative one. Like I said, I’m not entirely sure where I stand on the issue – I guess if you need a label I’d probably say I’m at the more conservative end of the liberal perspective, and in general I’d probably sooner share a pint with the pro-choice lot than the other lot (I suspect many would be more likely to buy a round, quite apart from anything else), but quite where on the spectrum I am I’m really not sure. I don’t think it’s exactly News At Ten that very conservative arguments make me cringe (particularly when they’re couched in God-speak so as to end the discussion without starting it), but I’m finding that the very liberal ones do as well and are often just as shrill and unsophisticated. I realise with such an emotional subject, with people’s lives at stake (mother AND child), often an impeccably argued debate is the least wanted, needed or compassionate response, and what comes out as a gut-level reaction is absolutely heartfelt and real, and I also realise that I do have a bit of a tendency to idolise impeccable argument and need to deal with that and not despise the heartfelt gut reaction. I just wish that the heartfelt gut reaction, on both sides, wasn’t so shrill and bitter.

Over at Of Course I Could Be Wrong, MadPriest has been hosting a very interesting debate (yes I know it’s from last month, there’s more recent stuff on his blog too) on this very subject. I wish some of the secular discussions were this respectful and genuinely grappling with the issues and open to the thought that their position isn’t the only Right one. I took a look at the Dispatches forum and found their discussion quite depressing, just as polarised as the usual religious debates.