Abortion, a major subject for today’s artists

If the adaptation of The event at the cinema by Audrey Diwan obtained the Golden lion at the Venice Film Festival, this will apparently not have been enough for the minister responsible for equality between women and men, Élisabeth Moreno, or the first lady, Brigitte Macron, to attend the screening organized on September 21 at the National Assembly . They had, however, been invited to attend.

This is not the first time that the arts have taken up the issue of abortion at the start of XXIe century, far from it. Annie Ernaux’s novel brought to the screen had appeared in 2000; Romanian and Belgian film 4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days, directed by Cristian Mungiu, was released in 2007 and received the Palme d’Or at the 60e Cannes festival, to name a few. However, the works – literary and cinematographic in particular – which deal with the voluntary termination of pregnancy have multiplied over the past two years in Western countries, thus testifying to the acuteness of this question, which some would have liked to limit to the Movement of liberation of women and its roots in the 1970s.

On the contrary, we are witnessing a strong repoliticization of this crucial issue for reproductive rights. While the right to abortion sometimes overshadows other issues linked to reproductive justice (access to contraception, sterilization, forced abortions, etc.), the issue remains a good yardstick for equality between women and men and their freedom to dispose of their own body. It is therefore not insignificant that mainstream culture is taking hold of it.

A question instrumentalised in the United States

In the United States, the right to abortion is the object of a real instrumentalisation during presidential campaigns, and it has been noted that Donald Trump – who was absolutely not opposed to it in the years 1980-90 – clearly perceived that the cleavage around the voluntary termination of pregnancy could be transformed into an electoral asset, which was not unrelated to his victory in 2016.

The three appointments he made to the Supreme Court of the United States, that of Neil Gorsuch in 2017, that of Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 and that of Amy Coney Barrett following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburgh last fall y are also related. These appointments are indeed at the heart of the Court refuses to consider extremely restrictive law passed by the State of Texas, which prohibits abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, including rape or incest.

It is in this context that two successful American authors, Jodi Picoult and Joyce Carol Oates, respectively published A spark of life (2018) and A book of American martyrs (2020). The first addresses the subject through a hostage-taking in an abortion clinic; the second uses the common thread of abortion to better show the divisions and inequalities that agitate contemporary America.

In the cinema, it is Never Rarely Sometimes Always, American-British film directed by Eliza Hittman, acclaimed at Sundance and Jury Prize at the Berlinale, which tackles it. The film, released on the sly in 2020, in the midst of the Covid crisis, skillfully places the spectators in the face of the territorial disparities suffered by Americans and the obstacle course that awaits those who wish to end a pregnancy, in particular if they are face material and financial constraints.

Women’s rights at risk

The difficulties encountered by the adolescent girls in the film are reminiscent of those faced by the Poles who are forced into abortive exile by the ban on abortion which is rife in their country. Many Irish women and men also continue to endure them despite the recent legalization of abortion up to 12 weeks in Republic of Ireland (2018) then in North Ireland (2020), due to resistance to the implementation of these provisions.



Read more: Three Families: abortion is now legal in Northern Ireland but more needs to be done so every woman has adequate access


Like these reverse developments in women’s rights, the world abortion rights day September 28th did not make much noise. Nevertheless, the taboo surrounding abortion does seem to be crumbling little by little. Speech is freed, carried by the wave #MeToo, which is the fourth anniversary, and by the publicity surrounding the discovery of gynecological and obstetrical violence.

Artistic activism

Witness the comic strip My vagina, my gynecologist and me by Rachel Lev (2021), but also I had to tell you (2019), by Aude Mermilliod, which precisely aims to break the silence surrounding pregnancy terminations, and the song Flesh (2020), by Barbara Pravi, who is leading this fight on the music scene. The popular culture icon – who represented France at Eurovision this year and thus enjoys great fame – and the designer put dignity at the center of this experience lived by approximately one in three women in Western countries. , mean that masks great disparities at the global level.

These artists are active in activism and their productions fall far short of inadvertently addressing the subject of abortion. These are eminently political and aim to open the eyes and ears of the general public by offering themselves as a place to confront these questions. If their public was not informed, it is thus brought to understand the reality lived by the women on the subject of which one legislates. These readings, these viewings aim to mark public opinion and help it make political choices at the polls. These committed works are not content to be produced in a particular context: they are there a reaction, a counter-attack.

Comics come full circle with The Manifesto of 343 (2020), Adeline Lafitte, Hélène Strag and Hervé Duphot, who reviews the publication of said Manifesto in The new observer 50 years ago. Aude Mermilliod also continues her collaboration with Martin Winckler by adapting her novel for comics (2021) The Women’s Choir (2009), proof if there was any that his work-testimony was not accidental. For readers, all that remains is to hope that the circle will also be closed by parliamentarians in France, who have been procrastinating for more than a year about authorize the extension of the legal deadline to 14 weeks.

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Abortion, a major subject for today’s artists

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