On abortion, a blog omnibus: Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days and other thoughts.


Two days ago at Twitter, with the Alabama legal fallout spreading, a friend made a comment encompassing all the males of the species.

“I can’t tell if silence from men on abortion is you not caring or you not knowing how to talk about it.”

That’s a fair point, and it needs to be covered first. I borrowed the two sentences she suggested as a starting point for commentary, and went from there, posting this statement at Facebook.

I support safe, legal abortion access. Women should retain control over their own body and be trusted to make the right choice for themselves.

Allow me to add that I also support comprehensive sex education and access to contraception. To me, much of this is a church-state issue, and consequently I’m not interested in hearing about what YOUR God has to say about it.

Moreover, I’d appreciate my fellow males pausing to THINK for once about ways to cure OUR various neuroses and hypocrisies about abortion, health, sexuality, reproductive behavior — on and on, ad nauseam — rather than continue mistaking our stupidity and insecurities for a rational position, and barking nonsensical commands to women accordingly.

That is all. I understand this position will put me at odds with some friends and acquaintances. I know you’ll be differing, debating and expressing annoyance (or worse). Yes, we can still talk about the tyranny of the local political patronage machine, pay-to-play and ruinous expenditures. But what I’m stating here is core to my system of values, for better or worse or whatnot.

Do and say as you will, and don’t worry — I’m not “running” for (or from) anything.

I’ve talked about abortion here at NA Confidential, but of course this fact alone is no guarantee that the chat has been coherent. Following is an overview, beginning with my friend K, who sent this solid link last evening.

What Actually Happens When a Country Bans Abortion, by Amy Mackinnon (Foreign Policy)

Romania under Ceausescu created a dystopian horror of overcrowded, filthy orphanages, and thousands died from back-alley abortions.

Opponents of the restrictive abortion laws currently being considered in the United States don’t need to look to fiction for admonitory examples of where these types of laws can lead. For decades, communist Romania was a real-life test case of what can happen when a country outlaws abortion entirely, and the results were devastating …

I’ve only visited Romania once (in 1997), but regular readers will recall my fascination with the country’s postwar history. In the context of Ceausescu’s abortion ban, I’ve touched on Romania at least twice in past columns. One of these columns from 2010 was reprinted in this space in late 2018.

ON THE AVENUES: Abortion? Wichita, or maybe Targu Mures.

When I hear the word “abortion,” I think about the dingy gray apartment blocks in Bucharest, capital of Romania. It is probable that few readers will have the same reaction, so kindly permit me to explain.

The following column from 2009 was written for publication in the pre-merger New Albany Tribune, where I was a paid columnist from 2009 – 2011. According to the rules of the game at the time, I linked to the column at the newspaper’s site, but did not post the text here at the blog.

Consequently this is the first time at NA Confidential for the text of this discussion of Romanian cinema, including the film about one woman’s abortion called Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days.

Foreign films, universal concerns.

Admittedly, my tastes in film are narrow. They derive from wearisome experience, because out of every 10,000 cinematic excuses to squander two hours of my life, all but a dozen invariably are absolute wastes of time.

I’d rather read a book, and generally do.

Of the dozen or so exceptions to my cinematic rule screened during the past year, four are products of the revitalized Romanian film industry. Taken as a group, these are serious films that offer a measure of thematic unity with respect to the country’s ongoing, often lurching recovery from 40 years of Communist mismanagement. It helps to know a bit about Romania’s 20th-century history, but you can enjoy these movies without such grounding.

Focusing their narratives on individuals and intimate relationships within small groups, the filmmakers eschew the grand, sweeping epic. These films are quiet, not loud. They utterly lack car chases, gratuitous violence, special effects, transformers and appearances by former members of Saturday Night Live, for which I am eternally grateful.

“The Way I Spent the End of the World” is an elegiac look at an ordinary Romanian family’s efforts to maintain a semblance of normalcy during the waning days of Communist Romania in 1989. It adroitly sketches a society teetering on the edge of madness, as long years of internal tensions stoked and exploited by the crazed dictator Nicolae Ceausescu finally coalesce into open revolt.

In “12:08 East of Bucharest,” fifteen years have passed since the wrenching changeover, and the owner of a shambolic television station in the degraded provincial Romanian city of Vaslui, far from the country’s capital and epicenter of Bucharest, decides to devote his daily talk show to a discussion of his city’s role in the anti-Communist revolution. When the phone lines open, it becomes clear that there was no role — purely selective memories of non-participants to the contrary.

Also set in contemporary times, “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” documents the last hours of an ailing, isolated, alcoholic pensioner unable to find peace in post-totalitarian Romania. As the dying man is shuttled from one hospital to the next by an exhausted ambulance crew, the country’s own attempted rehabilitation from the ravages of Communism to prospective membership in the European Union is metaphorically examined.

None of these films prepared me for the visceral impact of “Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days,” a gritty, harrowing and compelling account of a Romanian university student’s illegal abortion in 1987.

Romania became Communist shortly after the conclusion of World War II, and during these years of postwar economic and political dislocation, reliable contraceptives generally were unobtainable. However, owing perhaps to the custom followed by Romania’s overlord, the USSR, abortions were readily available and absurdly cheap, and it is suggested that there were four abortions for every live birth by 1966.

Around this time Ceausescu, who dubbed himself the “Genius of the Carpathians” in spite (or perhaps because) of his background as a semi-literate, peasant cobbler, came to power and commenced grafting the personality cult of North Korea’s Kim Il Sung onto the pathetically grandiose public theatrics of Benito Mussolini’s fascist Italy, creating a stunted and strangulated fiefdom in one of the continent’s least equipped socio-economic milieus. The result was a tragic quarter century.

In 1967, concluding that his impoverished country needed more citizens, Ceausescu decreed abortion illegal overnight, bringing the full powers of Romania’s police state to bear in enforcing the ban. The immediate effect of the decree was an abrupt doubling of the birth rate. This bulge was followed by a fast and steady decline in births, and by 1987, the country’s population had ceased to grow at all, but Ceausescu had already moved on to other, equally catastrophic projects, including the systematic bulldozing of countryside villages and the transfer of their inhabitants to virtual enslavement within “agro-industrial” complexes.

Significantly, one Romanian population statistic steadily increased during the years following the abortion ban: The maternal mortality rate tripled. Demographers have since learned that in terms of statistics, the deaths of women succumbing to botched illegal abortions in Romania were included with those of women dying during childbirth.

At the time documented by “Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days,” all parties involved in transacting an illegal abortion faced lengthy jail terms if caught. In addition to the threat of maiming and even death, and in the continuing enforced absence of legal contraceptives (a ubiquitous black market notwithstanding), a Romanian woman who sought to terminate a pregnancy could be arrested, convicted, imprisoned and her career left in ruins.

Taking all these dire factors into consideration, the film serves as a chilling case study of what happens when a government bureaucracy denies women control over their bodies, their destinies and their very lives. In Romania, the interference stemmed from a psychotic dictator’s whim, and his motivations were purely secular. Far more often in places like America, they are religious in nature.

Reproductive decision-making in many locales tends to reflect the patriarchal concerns of men rather than those of women, even as females remain responsible for bearing the children. It is a regrettable state of affairs that cuts across religious and secular concerns.

Oddly, when I heard the news of Dr. Robert Tiller’s murder by a terrorist during a church service in Wichita, it made me think of gray, desperate, soot-stained blocks of flats in Bucharest, along with legalities, illegalities, ideologies and the universality of human suffering.

In conclusion, a collection of blog links on the topic of abortion, dating back to 2012.

Abortion: “The number of unintended pregnancies has fallen in America as the use of contraceptives has spread, particularly among young people.”

Dolt supremacy: Remembering Bill O’Reilly’s role in the assassination of Dr. George Tiller.

Dunman (and Lady Parts Justice): “Bevin and his allies can’t ban abortion, no matter how much they hate it.”

“Planned Parenthood Videos Explain Abortion Process.”

“Pence’s attack on women’s rights, and on Indiana.”

ON THE AVENUES: Abortion? Wichita, or maybe Targu Mures.

“Free Abortions on Demand Without Apology,” in The Nation.

The Stutzmans, Zoellers and Pences bleat and wail.

Keller: A personal defense of abortion rights.

ON THE AVENUES: Shelter from the Strom.

At The Nation: “Whoever says that contraception and abortion aren’t economic issues should take a second look.”

Are you a “pro-conception-to-birth, indifferent-to-life conservative?”