an After abortion

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Thursday, April 3, 2003


43% of American women have had one or more abortions by the time they reach age 45.

Considering how common the experience is, positive or negative, you'd think that people would talk about it more, in movies, in plays, poetry and novels.

Why doesn't this happen more often?

While many of us can discuss abortion as a moral or political question, art approaches the universal through the individual. Thinking about an individual abortion even through fiction makes us more uncomfortable, doesn't it?

A specific woman choses it. A specific child dies.

When novelists address a subject they often are able to say things about it that aren't allowed elsewhere.

So here's something that is interesting. Maeve Binchy is a bestselling author. The New York Times Book Review describes her as "a remarkably gifted writer" and the Washington Post says that "reading one of Maeve Binchy's novels is like coming home."

In Scarlet Feather, a Penguin/Signet book from 2000, Binchy does have an abortion subplot.

The Boston Herald says about "Scarlet Feather" that it is "Another great, big, heart-warmer of a novel." The Chattanooga Times says that it is "Luscious and satisfying...readers will be sorry for this warm and charming tale to end."

Here's the abortion subplot. The working-girl heroine Cathy has a glamorous and well-heeled aunt, Geraldine. Cathy comes from a poor family and it never occurs to her to wonder why Geraldine has lots of money and interesting, sophisticated, wealthy boyfriends. One day, though, Cathy learns the truth.

When Geraldine was young, she fell deeply in love and had an affair with a married man. She becomes pregnant. He turns on her and demands that she abort the child. Against her better instincts, she complies. Her life is shattered. She never recovers. Instead, she becomes promiscuous and hard-hearted in order to protect her vulnerable, damaged heart, and embarks on a career as a mistress to wealthy men.

In other words, this much-lauded novel portrays a character who has a profoundly negative emotional experience in the aftermath of her abortion. And yet I imagine that the editorial pages and news columns of those papers that have lauded this novel are immune to any suggestion that women may suffer after abortion.

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