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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

FMLA screens ‘I Had an Abortion’

Published: March 28, 2008
Section: News

On Thursday the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance hosted a film screening, and afterwards a discussion, of the documentary “Speak Out: I Had an Abortion.” The showing was part of a series of events scheduled for Women’s History Month.

During March, FMLA has had an open mike night at Chum’s, a t-shirt making party, a revolutionary women flyer campaign, and most recently, a viewing and discussion of the film “I Had an Abortion.”

In an e-mail, FMLA Senior Representative Emily Kadar ’08 explained why the club decided to have an event focused on that topic. “We’re celebrating not only revolutionary women, but also the remarkable things they’ve achieved.”

The 2005 film details the personal experiences of a number of women who each decided to have an abortion. The group is diverse, featuring women of a variety of ages, religions, races, classes and political backgrounds. Many of the women viewed abortion as a choice, but a difficult one, none of the women viewed it as a casual decision. Loretta Ross, said of abortion, “it is by no means a decision anybody makes lightly.” Some of the women described the decision to abort, including feminist Gloria Steinem, as a test of self-respect. She said, “[it was] the first time I had taken responsibility for my own life.”

FMLA member Stephanie Spiro ’10 stated that the documentary is also a “historic film show[ing] abortion through many generations.” The film showed, in chronological order, women who had abortions before and after the Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion in 1973. Kadar stated in her email, “The Roe v. Wade decision…is something that our generation takes for granted. We need to remember the countless women [who] fought for our reproductive rights…with the Supreme Court tipping more and more conservative, I am extremely worried about the future of our reproductive rights. This film definitely shows what is at stake.”

The documentary detailed the experience of Florence Rice, who had an abortion during the 1930s. After the procedure she had an infection, which nearly ended her life. Her interview was prefaced with the fact that in the 1930s over a 1000 women died due to infection resulting from abortion.

Both Kadar and Spiro emphasized that the goal of the event was to promote a calm, rational discussion on a topic that is normally not talked about because of the stigma that surrounds it. The film was supposed to spark this conversation because it “gets beyond the political rhetoric,” Kadar said.

She also stressed the significance of de-stigmatizing talking about abortion, “it’s incredibly important to reduce the shame involved in abortion, both for the sake of the women who have had abortions and so other women can draw upon these experiences.”

Following the screening, the audience had a discussion in a “safe space” where students were encouraged to speak about their reactions to the film and about abortion in general. The majority of the audience was pro-choice, but there were a few who were pro-life individuals who voiced their opinions.

Reactions to the film were diverse. Some thought the film was extremely powerful, while others completely disagreed with the message of the documentary. There was also a disagreement about what the film’s message was. In addition, a few expressed that they couldn’t relate to the experiences of the women depicted.

The discussion on abortion revolved around several issues, including the scientific and moral question of how life is defined, why women should or should not speak out about their abortions, the law, and what it means to choose to abort or to choose not to abort. A large part of the discussion focused on how sex education, the availability of contraceptives, and abortion are linked. For the most part, the conversation was respectful and rational, but occasionally there were interruptions when people were talking and one person described a moment during the discussion as “tense.”