Before the US Supreme Court struck down abortion rights last Friday, writers, filmmakers and artists had been observing the social reality surrounding this explosive debate for decades. By Annie Ernaux (The event) to Claudia Pineiro (cathedrals), other traditions have dealt extensively with this issue, but in few places is the issue as thorny (and as political) as in a country divided into two halves since the precedent set by ‘Roe v. Wade’, the 1973 ruling that converted the Voluntary interruption of pregnancy in constitutional. These are some of the most prominent examples of this long cultural war.
The Handmaid’s Tale (HBOMax). the novel that Margaret Atwood signed in 1985, adapted as a successful television series – its fifth season starts in September -, described a dystopian future that, since then, has become hyperrealistic. In the Republic of Gilead, abortion is strictly prohibited because the sole purpose of women in society is to reproduce. In mid-May, when it was leaked that conservative Supreme Court justices planned to end the current legislation, Atwood wrote an op-ed in Atlantic in which she regretted having been so prophetic. “I invented Gilead. The Supreme Court makes it a reality,” she said. The writer herself revealed that she, on her day, interrupted the writing of the book several times, considering it “exaggerated”. “What a fool I was,” she concluded.
Princes of Maine, Kings of New England (Tusquets). John Irving’s novel, published in 1985, featured the owner of an orphanage, an ether-addicted doctor who secretly performs abortions, and his favorite orphan, whom he trains to make him his successor. Turned into an adult, the latter will refuse to “end a human life”, before changing his mind when he meets a young black woman who has been impregnated by his own father. East bildungsroman It was adapted to the cinema by Lasse Hallström in 1999 and, despite the sensitivity of its plot in a country divided on abortion, it was a relative success at the box office ($90 million) and won two Oscars.
A Book of American Martyrs (Alfaguara). Scourge of American morality, Joyce Carol Oates wrote this novel about two antagonistic families: that of a devout religious who shot to death an abortion doctor in Ohio and that of his victim, vindicated by his documentary filmmaker daughter several years later. It was published in 2017, but it describes a reality recognizable today, in which there are many legislators in favor of prohibiting the interruption of pregnancy and groups that organize to take the case before the Supreme Court. Its mission is “to ensure that abortion is declared illegal once again, as it was before 1973, and that the clinics where it is practiced can be closed,” wrote the author, who had observed the action of these groups in various parts of the country.
Never, almost never, sometimes, always (Prime Video). Another story that described cases that already existed, but are about to become widespread in half the country. In the film, a supermarket cashier from a Pennsylvania town traveled with her cousin to New York, without a dollar in her pocket, to terminate an unwanted pregnancy due to the lack of viable alternatives to do so in her own state, one of the points of the country where the legislation could change if the Republicans win in the November elections. Awarded at Sundance and the Berlinale, this unforgiving 2020 film is available on streaming on Prime Video and can be rented on other platforms. He was returning to a subject that had already been dealt with, bravely but somewhat more equidistantly, films like Dirty Dancing or practically all of the series from the 1980s and 1990s, roseanne a Feeling of living.
The abortion. This poem by Anne Sexton, included in the complete poetry (Linteo), which compiles the confessional verses of the great American writer, described with harsh images the road trip that led her to travel to another state to interrupt her pregnancy, drawing inspiration from her own experience in 1960. Interpreted by pro-life groups as a statement in line with their demands, what is read between the lines is much more ambivalent than some claim, although it is punctuated by a refrain typical of a sad ballad: “Someone who should have been born / is no longer”.
Revolutionary Way (Pocket-size). Richard Yates portrayed about fifty relatively similar to today. His vitriolic portrait of the Wheeler couple, unhappily married in mid-20th century Connecticut, seemed a warning against the rigidity of the family model and an implicit denunciation of the submission of women who were trapped in the role of perfect wives. Published in 1961—two years before the best-selling essay The mystique of femininity, by Betty Friedan, which was devoured by housewives who aspired to liberation, Yates’s book concluded with a terrible passage where its protagonist performed an abortion on herself in her stifling mansion in the suburbs of the East Coast. The book was adapted to the cinema in 2008 by Sam Mendes, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as protagonists (and an ending faithful to Yates, although a little more sweetened).
Lake of Fire. Director Tony Kaye, responsible for American History X, about the breeding ground of neo-Nazi culture in the United States, signed this shocking two-and-a-half-hour documentary, which is hard to find today, to address the debate on abortion that was resurrected in the country towards the last turn of the millennium. Kaye spent 17 years interviewing militants on both sides, from religious and far-right extremism that sprouted in rural regions to liberalism that reigned in urban centers on both coasts, drawing a map very similar to the one drawn by the Supreme Court decision. now in American geography: two halves unable to understand each other. To highlight, the participation of Noam Chomsky, who was surprising for his unexpected moderation, and the overwhelming stories of Michael Griffin and Paul Hill, known for having murdered doctors who performed abortions.
act of love. Neil Young composed and performed this theme coinciding with the celebration of a great act for the right to decide held in 1995 in Washington. He spoke of a man who abandoned his pregnant lover, proposing to pay for her abortion. He later recorded a studio version with Pearl Jam. However, his record company did not want the group, at the height of their fame in the days of grungy, appear in the credits (at the end, its members were cited by their proper names in the fine print). Young himself qualified his position: “I am pro-choice, but the song is not. It is not an easy topic to tackle. People who say that human beings have no right to throw away a human life are partly right. But there is the idealism and then there is the reality,” she stated.
Abortion is Normal. In the face of the growing offensive against the ‘Roe vs. Wade’ precedent and the approval of dozens of restrictive laws in different states, a group of women artists from the US organized a traveling exhibition in 2020 that defended the message of its title: “Abortion It is normal”. The sales of the works presented in the exhibition, by such renowned names as Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin, Laurie Simmons or Marilyn Minter, served to finance the activity of associations that militate for reproductive rights. Another of its promoters, Barbara Kruger, counterattacked a few days ago by signing an unpublished work in the pages New York Times (in the image above), presided over by one of the graphic slogans that abound in his creations. She said: “If the end of Roe is a shockIt’s just that you haven’t been paying attention.”