Film: “Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days.”

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Can it happen here?

In Communist Romania during the first two decades following World War II, contraceptives generally could not be obtained. However, abortion was legal, readily available and absurdly cheap, and some estimates suggest that there were four abortions for every live birth in 1966.

In 1967, Romanian Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu decreed abortion illegal overnight as part of a megalomaniacal drive to increase the country’s population. The short term effect was an abrupt doubling of the birth rate, followed by a fast and steady decline, to the point that twenty years afterward, Romania’s population had ceased to grow at all.

One population statistic did increase in Romania during this time. The maternal mortality rate tripled. The likely explanation is that women dying from botched illegal abortions were included statistically with those dying during childbirth.

From 1967 through Ceausescu’s overdue toppling and execution in 1989, the Romanian governmental bureaucracy actively intervened in the sex lives of the country’s citizens as part of the dictator’s psychotic desire that greater numbers of New Communist men and women be created to man the ramparts of a decaying, doomed society.

Two nights ago we watched “Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days,” a harrowing and compelling Romanian film that tells the story of a university student’s illegal abortion in the year 1987. It is by far the best of the four Romanian cinematic productions that Diana and I have seen this year. All of them have been good and thought provoking, especially for someone with a workmanlike grounding in the history of the area, but “Four Months …” indisputably exists on a higher plane of achievement.

I shan’t reveal the plot, which is eloquent in its simplicity, but it should suffice to note that the film’s action takes place against a stifling backdrop of big governmental intrusion in the lives of ordinary people. All parties involved in transacting the illegal abortion faced lengthy jail terms if caught. In addition to the threat of maiming and even death, a Romanian woman of the time who was seeking to terminate a pregnancy (in the absence of contraceptives) could be imprisoned and her career – her life – ruined.

There may be little to justify the public life of a Nicolae Ceausescu outside of cynical Cold War politics and a certain level of regional backwardness, and yet there are others among us right here in America, some in gated communities, others with no worldly possessions, but all possessed of a fervent belief that control must be exercised over reproductive freedom, and who if asked, would volunteer the imposition of the semi-literate tin pot Communist strongman’s solution of a ban on abortion and the expansion of a police state to enforce it.

That’s very, very frightening.

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