To quote Gloria Feldt, “Media portrayals, real or fictional, don’t merely inform us — they form us.” In this series, I will be examining five films – classic, mainstream, independent, foreign, and pre-Roe – and five television shows – daytime soap, drama, pre-Roe, critically lauded, and teen-oriented – that address unexpected pregnancy, to examine how past portrayals can influence and reflect society’s view of abortion.
This is an intense movie. Not to mention terrifying and infuriating and impossible to turn off – a masterfully written, filmed, and acted chronicle of two young women’s attempt to obtain an illegal abortion in Romania, circa 1987. Otilia, a resourceful and unflappable college student, raises the money, secures the hotel room, and meets the abortionist who will terminate her roommate Gabita’s pregnancy. She’s the one making the arrangements because Gabita is on the edge of panic, essentially sleepwalking through the day until the abortionist comes to the hotel, at which point the movie takes an even darker turn. The dynamic between Otilia and Gabita, more than any other relationship in the film, is riveting and complicated, and a large part of what makes the movie so compelling. It’s no wonder that critics largely adored this 2007 release, which won that year’s Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
What struck me most about 4 Months, though, was how much of Otilia and Gabita’s experience is still relevant today, in the U.S. True, women and providers do not risk jail time for having or performing an abortion – although depending on how Nebraska’s fetal pain fight plays out, or if Personhood USA prevails this election year, or some anti-choice politician decides that despite a physician’s best intentions, he unknowingly performed a so-called partial-birth abortion, we could find ourselves in a situation where abortion is punishable with jail time.
But the mad scrambling for money? Yeah, that still plays out today, over and over. Because even if you have health insurance, it might not cover elective abortion (or medically necessary abortion, for that matter); and if you don’t have health insurance, you have to raise $200 or $300 or $400 on your own – or more, depending on the number of weeks – and do it fast, before the price jumps even more. Many women are able to do this without significant trouble, but just as many women have to make the decision between paying for an abortion or paying rent or utility bills or buying groceries. They raise the money in $50 and $75 increments, borrowing from a sister or a neighbor or sometimes, but not often enough, the man involved. And maybe they can say what the money’s for, but it’s just as likely they can’t, because they know they’ll be judged. Add in the other barriers to obtaining care, like mandatory waiting periods and the scarcity of clinics in many parts of the country, and you have a situation where abortion might be legal, but it’s hardly a realistic choice. 4 Months depicted a period in time that is, thankfully, in the past (albeit not that long ago), even as it reminds the viewer why freedom of choice should never be taken for granted.
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.