Editor’s Note: French filmmaker and screenwriter Audrey Diwan is the director of Venice Golden Lion-winning abortion drama Happening (L’Evénément). Adapted from celebrated French writer Annie Ernaux’s autobiographical novel of the same name, it follows the emotionally harrowing and physically perilous battle of a brilliant literature student to obtain an abortion in 1963, some 12 years before it was made legal in France. The film’s unexpectedly timely U.S. release by IFC Films in May coincided with news via a leaked document that the Supreme Court was on the verge of overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that recognized women’s constitutional right to abortion in the US. This came to pass on Friday (June 24). As abortion clinics begin closing in some U.S. states, Diwan has penned a column for us on a decision that has sent shockwaves across the world.
We should not lie to ourselves. Let’s start with the facts. We all know that when the right to abortion is called into question, the practice does not disappear: it changes in nature. Where abortion is prohibited, it becomes clandestine. Women do not cease to be free, they put their lives at risk to remain so.
I was struck when reading Annie Ernaux’s book, ‘Happening’, by my lack of knowledge on the subject. We often speak theoretically on clandestine abortion. I wanted to offer a physical and visceral transcription of it.
I realized that I had too often taken part in the debate without knowing what I was talking about concretely: the pain, the loneliness, the danger, the social inequalities. Because illegal abortion is much riskier when you don’t have the money to do it in the right conditions. And there is gender inequality, of course…
I have two children, thirteen and fourteen. A boy and a girl. I raised them telling them that they were equal. I can’t imagine having to tell them otherwise, to explain to them that I was wrong, to my son that he remains free, and to my daughter that she no longer is. This story seems dystopian to me.
Two months ago, I showed Happening in several U.S. cities, ending in Atlanta. Following the screening, some young women came to me, looking pale, and said: “It’s us, we are the women who will die.” When I returned to France, their voices resonated with me. I never imagined that such a big democracy could accept this. Neither did I ever imagine that fiction would ever become such a ferociously crucial reality in the U.S.
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