Monday 24 January 2011

Myth Busting Monday: Abortion in films is always presented as a traumatic experience

Today’s blog is a response to mangmangmang’s question on Twitter: ‘Can you find a media portrayal of voluntarily chosen abortion without serious traumatic consequences?’ This week the focus is on film but we'll also cover books and TV in future posts...

The film which first comes to mind is Greenberg. Released last year, from the director of the fabulous The Squid and the Whale this is another tale of mid-life ennui - starring Ben Stiller as the disaffected lead Roger Greenberg. It’s a nice sprawling ‘indie’ film with some sharp lines and well-developed characters but what struck me most was the non-sensational depiction of abortion. Although interestingly the ‘A word’ isn’t used in the film, lead character Florence explains that she’s going for a ‘D and C’ (dilatation and curettage) and the film takes time to establish the procedure within the plot. Crucially Florence doesn’t go crazy or grow horns following the procedure. She does question what she’s doing with her life, but as RH Reality Check points out, the ‘abortion is treated not as a punishment but as a part of a character arc that teaches her to change course and to actually protect herself more’.

After a spate of mainstream films where abortion seems to be have been side-stepped (Juno and Knocked Up for example) or is absent completely, it was refreshing to see this very common medical procedure approached with subtlety and even humour (yes, humour !).

Which got us to thinking here at EFC about how abortion is portrayed in film more generally. Which films do you think present the subject realistically, sympathetically or just downright badly? Is the woman shown to suffer serious mental/physical health problems following abortion? Is abortion presented as a valid option even if it isn’t eventually chosen?

Here are a few films to check out if you haven’t already– please add your comments and suggestions to this post or email with suggestions of books and TV shows featuring abortion storylines for our future blogs.

Vera Drake
Mike Leigh’s account of Vera, a woman who voluntarily performs abortions on women pre-1967 provides an emotional reminder of the lengths women go to when (or where) abortion is illegal or severely restricted. This can be a great resource for teaching young people about abortion law.

Dirty Dancing
Another film set in a time before abortion was made legal in which a main character suffers from a botched ‘backstreet’ abortion. Writer Eleanor Bergstein claims she fought for this scene to be retained as, at the time it was written, there were threats to women’s right to legal abortion and she wanted the film to function as a reminder of what criminalising abortion would mean for women.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
This film set in Romania again focuses on illegal abortion, under the communist regime of the late 1980s.

Obvious Child
By no means a Hollywood blockbuster, this short, upbeat indie film looks at one woman’s decision to end her pregnancy. Another rare example of a film in which abortion is not a traumatic experience for those involved. You can watch it online here.

1 comment:

  1. Alfie (1966) presents a very bleak picture of abortion and an abortioneers in the UK before leaglisation.

    I think that scriptwriters (who are mostly men) use abortion as a way to inject emotion and drama into otherwise dreary plots.

    In real life many women make decisions about abortion without the intense emotional turmoil the scriptwriters would have us believe.