Pregnancy is often portrayed either as a blessing, the promise of future happiness, life-giving energy, or, on the other hand, as an inconvenience, a difficult few months, or few weeks, an impediment to one’s life projects. Put this way, it’s not hard to see how the so-called ‘pro-life’ side of the abortion debate can lose. They are on the side of the angels, on the side of the positive, whereas the abortionists, the ‘pro-choice’ people, are on the side of management, five-year plans and time-tables. Of course, anyone who has been pregnant, or known someone who has, will know that this is bollocks. Pregnancy is never, or at least extremely rarely, just an inconvenience. Unless you are blessedly young and immature an unwanted pregnancy is an emotional and physical burden, something you cannot take a break from, until it is terminated – one way or another. I’ve seen two films recently, both Hollywood movies, that made this point rather nicely – if very differently.
The first was What to Expect When You’re Expecting, a film about a bunch of couples going through pregnancy, miscarriage or adoption. One of the mothers in the story runs a shop for pregnant women and writes books about breastfeeding. Pregnancy is what she has been waiting for and she is hoping to flourish as a pregnant woman, knows everything she needs to do, takes her vitamins, etc. Very soon, however, she finds that pregnancy just isn’t for her. It’s painful, always tiring, uncomfortable and undignified. And mostly emotionally wrenching. She gets lucky as soon as her baby is born, as she finds that being a mother is her thing. A little pink around the edges, perhaps, as women who have difficult pregnancies and birth may find the few days afterwards a tad difficult, but the film clearly delivers the message that no matter how hard you work at it, how long you desire it, how positive you are, pregnancy can be a bitch.
The second film was Prometheus. SPOILER ALERT! Of course, Ridley Scott is known for his horrifying birth images, as witness this extract from the TV show Coupling. But in the prequel, he goes the extra mile. Noomi Rapace finds herself impregnated by the nasty, sticky alien substance. She asks Robot boy, Michael Fassbender, to help her get rid of the alien growing insider of her. He refuses, and attempts to force her to see the incubation to term by putting her to sleep. It’s interesting that the pro-life person here, is not only a man, but a robot (or replicant – let’s call a spade a spade), someone who has no stake whatsoever in human reproduction. She wakes up and escapes to the surgical pod, shown to her earlier by the female chief of the expedition. She attempts to program it for a cesarean, but the machine replies that it is programmed for male patients only. Our heroine, despite growing abdominal pains and panic tries a different program: removal of foreign body. She climbs in the pod, the laser thing cuts her belly, and extracts a live and kicking octopussy kind of alien fetus that then tries to kill her. She manages to get the machine to staple her belly back together before coming out and letting the pod destroy the alien. To make it all more realistic, Ridley Scott has the actress doubling up in pain every few minutes thereafter, because of the cesarean operation.
Far be it from me to claim that unwanted babies are nasty and dangerous alien creatures. But the film vividly depicted the urgency with which a woman who finds herself pregnant against her will may want to terminate the process. The bloody, life threatening procedure Noomi Rapace undergoes is nothing compared to what women go through when they seek a back street abortion. But women are sometimes desperate not to have another being growing inside of them, and they will risk health and life to stop it from doing so. It is not a matter of inconvenience, planning, management. It is a matter of whether you feel up to letting yourself incubate a living thing for nine months, letting yourself become a mother, developing a relationship with something or someone you don’t know, and may not have space for in your life. However we feel about the rights of a fetus, women who abort deserve our sympathy, and we owe it to them to make it easier and safer for them.