Wednesday, July 02, 2008

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

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.


Daniel Short said...

Reproductive freedom? Progressives never cease to amaze me with the new politically correct sayings they come up with. I guess all these women were forced to have sex? No contraception? Why didn't they practice abstinence. That is one sure fire way to not get pregnant. Freedom of choice is the freedom to choose to have sex or not to have sex, protected or otherwise, and LIVE with the consequences. Here is an unpolitically correct phrase - intellectual honesty. Just because you spew it and a dozen others swear to it does not make it absolute. Communism is wrong, big government telling us what to do is wrong, but taking of life is on a much larger moral stage than taxes and global warming. Give me a break.

Kurt said...

Suggesting that we can either have reproductive rights or a police state to enforce a ban on abortion is suggesting a view of the world through the lens of a false dichotomy. While a ban on abortion would limit the scope of reproduction rights, nearly every law in existence, indeed the very purpose of our state, is to apply coercion in order to ensure the greatest amount of liberty possible. For, in a state of anarchy there would be little freedom with no one to enforce our contractual agreements with one another and to protect our individual rights. For example, state force is clearly acceptable in the prevention of theft or murder. Reproductive rights, however, are often contended because they happen to be positioned right in that nexus between legitimate state coercion and individual liberty. The question is not if the state should apply force, but rather how much and how far reaching it should be.

For or against abortion, I also believe that arguments employing consequentialist logic on such matters are dangerous. If, for example, the point is that a ban on abortion is a bad idea because the policing necessary to enforce it would be excessive, we cannot legitimately legislate on those grounds. The protection of private property entails policing and how reasonable would it be to suggest that theft should not be illegal because of this fact? (Anarchists, unbelievably, do however make this argument) Or consider Alan Dershowitz, a renowned Harvard professor, who argued in 2002 that torture is wrong, but because the CIA is going to do it anyway we need to adopt a system of ‘torture warrants’ so that when it does occur there will at least be oversight; again we cannot, and should not, legislate on these grounds.

What we should consider are the individual rights involved, especially those of the mother, the father, and the unborn child. I think it is a fair assessment to place the child’s right to life logically prior to that of the mother’s right to choose. Indeed the point at which the state begins to exert its force in prohibiting abortion happens around the third trimester, the point at which the fetus has been identified to be a person with rights. However, the point at which the fetus (used loosely, embryo and so on) becomes a person has been contended, with conservatives often identifying it at conception and progressives much later, and these are the grounds that this question should and will be decided on. Other important considerations, in my opinion, would be the incidence of rape and the mother’s health. As far as a lack of contraceptives, this is without question a serious infringement on personal liberty.

According to a WHO document I skimmed over, in 2004 Romania adopted a program similar to that employed in the US and I will take your suggestion and check out the movie.

Mr. Short, arguments similar to yours have been made concerning HIV/AIDS. That is, people can choose to have or not to have sex, thus if they contract HIV some argue that they should simply live and die with it, notwithstanding the fact that treatments are readily available. Contraceptives do exist and are cheap; people should have access to them.

The New Albanian said...

Look, ma -- I caught one.

Daniel Short said...

Ahh, the carp calling.

Kurt, I am not suggesting that contraceptives be removed from society, but if a dictator does remove them then abstinence seems like proven method to avoid pregnancy. Abortion as a means of birth control is akin to the slaughter of Jews as a means of thinning the population.

Rog, I know you love to get me going. But, without me, you would get bored listening to the Amens from the choir. Preach on you progressive reverand.

Iamhoosier said...

I almost always stay out of this topic. However...

Daniel, your point on abstinence is true. It does work. No doubt about it. Can't argue the results(or lack thereof).


B.W. Smith said...

However, the point at which the fetus (used loosely, embryo and so on) becomes a person has been contended, with conservatives often identifying it at conception and progressives much later, and these are the grounds that this question should and will be decided on.

Kurt - nice post. If I read you correctly, you are saying that "viability," which is what the Supreme Court used in Roe, is different from "personhood." If that is what you are saying, I agree 100%.

To many people of religious faith, of course, when genetic material becomes a "person" has to do with the moment of ensoulment (when one obtains a soul). Folks who don't believe in ensoulment have to look to neuroscience, I suppose. My point being that we will never agree on the question of personhood, but viability is less subjective. While I agree with you that personhood, not viability, is the ultimate issue here, I think viability is a better criteria for the courts to use in balancing the rights of the parties.

It is so rare to have a rational discussion about abortion. Thank you.

Kurt said...

Thanks Brandon, I also find it nice to talk with someone who has read the case!

I understand why they used viability in the decision, I think it was both objective and logical. However, I guess the whole can of worms centers around when a person becomes a citizen, under protection of the state. It is interesting to note that viability is not static, as advances in medicine keep reducing that point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb. This tells me that utilizing viability as the standard may be more in the name of expedience and I'm not certain that is just.
I'm curious if anyone can offer up a better standard though...I'll leave mine for later to avoid another huge column in my first posts on this site.
Again, nice to talk to you Brandon.

jon faith said...

We saw the film at Baxter and found it apolitical; it could've been in Ireland or Hanoi: hell, the plot is in similar form, albeit bereft of a friend, in Faulkner's As I Lay Dying.

Back to your thumping, Daniel.

Daniel Short said...

Again,I did not bring politics into this discussion. Viability, having a soul - both valid questions. I guess this is where my faith takes hold and I am reminded that God knew me before he formed me in the womb. My point is that if my creator knew me and had plans for me, then was I already a soul without a body. What I don't like about these abortion topics, and the author of this blog entry obviously knows my buttons, is that we talk about human life so flippant. Heck, BHO doesn't believe in 14th amendment rights for a baby that survives an abortion, as he proved by blocking a bill in the Illinois legislature. How absurd and non-progressive!

The New Albanian said...

"I am reminded that God knew me before he formed me in the womb. My point is that if my creator knew me and had plans for me, then was I already a soul without a body."

Believe it or not, I respect your belief. It isn't my belief. How do we arbitrate the difference in a civil society?

Kurt said...

Mr. Short, while I realize that religion is important to many Americans as it informs many of their moral positions, it is not, and should not be, dispositive in a secular state. In fact, I find your mentioning what I think to be Jeremiah 1:5 of the Christian Bible, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…” placed just sentences before you state that you don’t like how the author of this blog takes human life so flippantly to be a bit oxymoronic. The same religious text that you paraphrased from also condemns the very babies that you are concerned to protect at 1 Samuel 15:3, “Go now and put Amalek to the sword, putting to the curse all they have, without mercy, put to death every man and woman, every child and baby at the breast.”

Moreover, your regurgitation of the religious rights grossly misleading attempt to smear Obama as not being concerned for the welfare of babies is, borrowing from one of your previous posts, “intellectually dishonest”. Obama did not support the Illinois Born Alive Infant Protection Act or BAIPA because this right-wing act never was really intended to protect infants, it was legislation that would have paved the road to make all abortions illegal cart blanche. The procedure this legislation focuses on in its attempt to ban all abortion is called, dilation and extraction, which is an option when the mother wants the child, but childbirth threatens to kill her or the child being born is found to be not viable outside the womb.

Roger, how do we arbitrate this? In a none arbitrary way I suppose. We need an objective standard; I think personhood occurs much earlier than the third trimester though.

The New Albanian said...

Kurt, thanks for the informed posts. I'm not sure what the objective standard should be, but I know what it shouldn't be: Daniel's subjective religious belief.