When abortion was illegal.
In a small auditorium at Stanford University, a group of medical students resemble mourners at the wake of a close friend. They sit silently. Some wipe tears from their cheeks, while others hold hands or hug.
They have just seen the film, When Abortion Was Illegal, Dorothy Fadiman's moving, first-person documentary. The fifty-five-year-old filmmaker, herself tearful, walks slowly toward the podium. In a hushed tone, she explains why she made the film in 1992. "No woman should have to go through this," she says. "We don't realize how dangerously close we are to returning to the old days when abortions were difficult to obtain."
For Fadiman, the satisfaction of filmmaking lies in a certain "messianic zeal" to share her experience and beliefs with thousands of people. Over the last seventeen years, she has made eight documentaries, ranging from a profile of community organizing to a look at the use of light in religious practices. "The purpose of my films is not to persuade, but to quicken the spirit of the curious."
During the late 1980s when Roe v. Wade appeared to be in peril, Fadiman snatched up her video camera and put together a compelling story - her own illegal abortion, which evolved into a story that included many other women. The result was the Academy-Award-nominated, When Abortion Was Illegal, the first in a trilogy of documentaries on the issue.
Now the proud mother of two grown daughters, Fadiman was twenty-two and a graduate student at Stanford in 1962 when she discovered she was pregnant. Financially strapped, emotionally unready to be a mother, and lacking a stable relationship, Fadiman decided to terminate the pregnancy. She scraped together $600 in cash and had an illegal abortion - blindfolded and unanesthetized. Two days later, she fell ill with peritonitis and blood poisoning and was rushed to the university hospital where her own doctor - who had refused to provide her with a safe abortion or a referral - saved her life.
Like other women who survived back-alley abortions, Fadiman told no one of this experience for many years. When she was twenty-two, "the term abortion was a dirty word; it was like a body part you couldn't mention," she recalls. But her openness in talking about her abortion while making the documentary compelled other women she interviewed to talk freely about their experiences.
A pantheist, Fadiman strives to see the spiritual side to everything, abortion included. Her second documentary, the soon-to-be-released From Danger to Dignity, chronicles the efforts of activists and legislators to decriminalize abortion while telling the story of the underground network that helped women find safe abortions outside the law. It also features clergy of different faiths who referred women to doctors who performed abortions or to safe places in Mexico.
"The primary point of this film is that these clergy supported women, they assisted them, and they were there if the women wanted to talk about it, but they didn't tell them what to do," says Fadiman.
The involvement of religious figures with the pro-choice movement seems incongruous at a time when the religious right is standing ready to force the Republican Party to take a hard anti-abortion position, and the Vatican is vociferously denouncing abortion rights. But while the religious right has tried to portray abortion rights as antithetical to Christian beliefs, Fadiman says she sought clergy from different faiths to demonstrate that there was - and still is - broad support in the religious community for choice.
"We are at a juncture in human evolution," she says, "where we either must allow individuals to create appropriate alternatives within their own lives and communities, or we're going to destroy ourselves."
To purchase a copy of When Abortion Was Illegal, contact BullFrog Films (800) 543-3764. Copies of From Danger to Dignity are available from Concentric Media, P.O Box 1414, Menlo Park, CA 94026.
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|Date:||Aug 1, 1995|
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