Roe: Can a Play Influence the Abortion Debate?

Jan 22, 2017

By Sophie Gilbert

Roe, which opened at Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage just days before the inauguration of President Donald Trump, is a modern kind of history play, a production that considers a crucial issue in American politics. But its playwright, Lisa Loomer, didn’t expect the timing of Roe to be quite so pointed, coinciding with the arrival of a new president opposed to abortion rights and a vacancy on the Supreme Court. “It’s daunting,” Loomer says. “I feel like the play has become accidentally urgent.”

But Roe isn’t a particularly polemical play, or a deliberate attempt to advocate for one side or another. It frames its story around the two women at the center of Roe v. Wade, the 1971 case that enshrined the legal right to have an abortion in American law: Sarah Weddington, the then-26-year-old attorney who argued on behalf of the plaintiff, and Jane Roe, a.k.a. Norma McCorvey, a young Texan woman in her early 20s who wanted to end her pregnancy. The actors who play the two women serve as both narrators and central characters, telling their own, sometimes opposing versions of the roles they played in a landmark judgment, and how it changed their lives. The case itself is dealt with in just a few minutes: Loomer is much more interested in the larger history of abortion in the U.S., and why, after 40-some years, public opinion on the subject is just as divided as ever.

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14 comments on “Roe: Can a Play Influence the Abortion Debate?

  • Just had a conversation with my 77 year old mom. She was telling me that when she was a kid it wasn’t unusual to hear about women who died or nearly died from back alley and self induced abortions at home. She said that young people today have no idea how desperate women were to control the size of their families but had no way to do so.

    I asked her to talk about this and make this history known whenever she gets the chance.

    Hmmm, is this play staying at that theater or will it go on the road? I hope it makes its way to Boston.

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  • I wouldn’t count on it. Yes, a play can influence a great many things. Political theater has been known to start riots. But what good is a riot? I guess it depends. (One of Odets’ plays did that. It was about a taxi strike or something) Most don’t produce immediate results like that. It has to very good, and of the moment. I don’t know how effective and dramatic this one is.

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  • Note: “I wouldn’t count on it.” I should have left that out. Maybe the play is great and will influence the debate. I haven’t read it or seen it. But it would have to be very powerful indeed, and offer something new. This is old material. And I am skeptical; I read a review. The two characters, when they’re not talking to the audience, narrating, they just sit there talking to each other on stools… Maybe it’s good “political theater.” — I don’t know.

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  • Same issue (as the one Vicki’s posted article discusses). Different article. Nightmare.

    “By reinstating the global gag rule as one of his first actions in office, Donald Trump has put politics over women’s lives. The global gag rule will cause clinic closures around the world, resulting in more unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion, not less,” Latanya Mapp Frett, executive director of Planned Parenthood Global said in a statement. “The world’s most vulnerable women will suffer as a direct result of this policy, which threatens to undermine years of efforts to improve women’s health worldwide. The policy also sends a false message around the world that the U.S. is against abortion rights above all else – a stance with which many Americans disagree.”

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  • @OP – Loomer is much more interested in the larger history of abortion in the U.S., and why, after 40-some years, public opinion on the subject is just as divided as ever.

    It should be obvious that many of them simply gullibly accept regularly spoon-fed pseudo-facts from dogmatist pseudo-experts!

    “The Pope asked him to resign and he agreed,” . . . . . .
    Mr Festing had refused to cooperate with a Vatican investigation into the sacking of the order’s grand chancellor, Albrecht von Boeselager, who was suspended over the condom programme on 8 December.

    Mr Boeselager said he did not know about the condom distribution programme, which was an anti-HIV and family planning initiative, and stopped it when he learned of its existence.

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  • Dan #6
    Jan 23, 2017 at 10:45 pm

    “By reinstating the global gag rule as one of his first actions in office, Donald Trump has put politics over women’s lives. The global gag rule will cause clinic closures around the world, resulting in more unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion, not less,”

    Some of the more civilised parts of the world are taking counter measures to Trump’s panderings to Xtian evangelical fundamentalists!

    The Netherlands is to set up an international fund to support abortion services hit by President Donald Trump’s order to cut US foreign aid.

    For decades, it has been the case that no US money can be spent on overseas abortions.

    But on Monday, the president signed an executive order – known as the global gag rule – which takes that a step further, prohibiting organisations that receive US family planning assistance from using non-US funding to provide abortion services, information, counselling or referrals.

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  • In civilised countries the bigots are playing martyr – with a bit of US support!
    A Swedish midwife who refuses to carry out abortions is appealing to a labour tribunal after being turned down for jobs at local clinics three times.

    Ellinor Grimmark objects to abortions because of her Christian beliefs. It is seen as a test case, partly because a big US Christian group is backing her.

    The US Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is a partner of her legal team – Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers.

    In 2015 a district court rejected her discrimination complaint.

    Ms Grimmark is suing the Joenkoeping regional health authority. The appeal hearing is still under way, and the verdict is expected in a few weeks’ time.

    Under the 2015 court ruling, she was ordered to pay the authorities’ legal costs.

    Sweden’s discrimination ombudsman also ruled against her.

    Sweden’s policy on abortion follows the principle that “always the need of the patient comes first”, Mia Ahlberg, president of the Swedish Association of Midwives told the BBC.

    The key point, Ms Ahlberg said, is that the midwife has a choice – she can choose another profession if necessary – but in many cases a woman having an abortion could not choose to become pregnant.

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  • I saw Fred Rogers (aka Mr. Rogers) tell a story about a tragedy that was on the news when he was a small boy. He was scared by the hate/vitriol/violence of whatever act was being reported upon. His mother said to him, ” son, anytime you see this type of thing, look at all the people that rush to help.” They by far out number the ones doing the hurt.

    This is (I hope) what we will see on display, globally, as the folly of the American Presidency attempts to hurt people. The Netherlands has stepped up on this front. Please, everyone, look at the ones who step up to help. And, do not have short memories regarding these acts of heroism in the face of a bully president, and, yes, a bully country. Look at the crowds. Look at the bystanders. Look at the commonality of good and imprint on it.

    If you look for it, you will see it, and hopefully realize that. ultimately it will win out. This 4 years is going to set things back. But, that is all it will be, a setback.

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  • Meanwhile, in countries with Catholics (and now Trump), suppressing availability of contraception, all sorts of abuses have been perpetrated by “back-street abortionists”!

    Spain has agreed to extradite to Colombia a former Farc rebel accused of carrying out 300 forced abortions on women fighters, some of them underage.
    Hector Arboleda Albeidis Buitrago, who has Spanish nationality, was detained in Madrid in December 2015.

    He will face trial in Colombia for murder, attempted murder and abortion without consent.

    Mr Arboleda Buitrago had been working as a nurse with no medical training, Colombian prosecutors say.

    On Friday, Spanish authorities gave the green light to a Colombian justice minister’s request and agreed to hand him over to a court in Bogota.

    His arrest in 2015 formed part of an investigation relating to 150 cases involving former Farc fighters who said they had been forced to terminate their pregnancies.

    Known as “The Nurse”, Mr Arboleda Buitrago is accused of taking part in most of those abortions.

    Colombian authorities said the procedures were carried out in filthy conditions, with no medication, on women who were often in their final months of pregnancy.

    They added that the women came from indigenous communities and should have been protected during their pregnancies and should have been relieved of their duties as Farc officers.

    Female rebels were compelled to have abortions so as not to undermine their fighting ability, although the left-wing rebels have denied this in the past, saying that contraception was made available.

    In an interview with the BBC in 2015, one female rebel in Bogota said that she had been forced to have five abortions. She said that women in the organisation were expected to fight, and those who were allowed to have babies considered themselves lucky.

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    A proposal which would force women to get permission from their sexual partner to allow them to have an abortion has passed the first hurdle in Oklahoma.

    The bill would mean women needed written consent from a man for a doctor to carry out a termination.

    The bill’s author, state legislator Justin Humphrey, who has described pregnant women as “hosts”, said it would give the father a “say-so”.

    Critics say it degrades women.

    The fact Oklahoma lawmakers decided to move the measure toward a full vote by the legislature comes at a time the anti-abortion movement is growing bolder under President Donald Trump.

    Mr Trump at one point suggested women should be punished for having abortions, and promised to elect an anti-abortion judge to the Supreme Court. The position of his nominee, Neil Gorsuch, on abortion is unclear.

    The Associated Press says at least 11 anti-abortion bills have been introduced in Oklahoma this session, including one that classifies the procedure as first-degree murder, but it is unlikely many of those will reach the governor’s desk.

    This particular bill would allow men to demand a paternity test before the procedure could be carried out, but does make exceptions for women who have been raped or are the victims of incest.

    Oklahoma already has some of the toughest abortion regulations anywhere in the US. Last year, the state’s Republican governor, who would have to sign any approved measure into law, vetoed a bill calling for prison terms for doctors who performed abortions.

    Women seeking abortions in Oklahoma already must undergo a 72-hour waiting period and counselling on a perceived link between abortion and breast cancer.

    The National Cancer Institute and other medical experts say there is no link.

    Pro-choice advocates are furious this bill has been tabled at all.

    “Oklahoma HB 1441 is an outrageous bill meant to shame, burden, and degrade women seeking abortion care,” said a statement by Diane Horvath-Cosper, spokeswoman for the New York-based Physicians for Reproductive Health.

    However, activists are hopeful that previous legal precedent will mean it gets knocked back.

    Tamya Cox, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said the US Supreme Court already ruled against requirements to notify the father in 1992.

    “Courts have said that states cannot create undue burdens and create unnecessary obstacles when it comes to a woman’s right to access abortion,” she said. “To waste taxpayer dollars on bills like this does not represent what’s best for Oklahomans.”

    Where there are stable families with fathers taking responsibility for supporting children, then in my view, they should be informed and consulted, – (particularly on issues such as inherited disabilities), but needing paternity tests, or asking absent Catholic lovers, argumentative rapists, or other ducking and dodging men for consent, is just irrational obstructive prevarication in a process which is time sensitive!

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    Roe v Wade: Woman in US abortion legal test case dies

    Norma McCorvey, whose test case made abortions legal in the United States, has died aged 69.

    She was represented under a pseudonym in the Roe v Wade case, in what ended up being a landmark and controversial Supreme Court judgement in 1973.

    Having turned to religion, McCorvey then said being part of the decision to legalise abortion “was the biggest mistake of my life”.

    She also unsuccessfully petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade.

    It seems that social pressure, maternal instinct, and religious brain-rot, changed her mind later in life!

    Her death, in a Texas care home, was confirmed to US media by a journalist who had been working on a book on the case.

    The ruling in January 1973 came after McCorvey, then a 25-year-old single woman under the pseudonym “Jane Roe”, challenged the criminal abortion laws in Texas that ruled abortion was unconstitutional, except in cases where the mother’s life was in danger.

    Henry Wade was the Texas attorney general who defended the anti-abortion law.

    McCorvey first filed the case in 1969 – she was pregnant with her third child and said she had been raped. But the case was rejected and she was forced to give birth.

    However, in 1973 her appeal made it to the US Supreme Court where, by a vote of seven to two, the justices ruled that the government lacked the power to prohibit abortions.

    The court’s judgement was based on the decision that a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy came under the freedom of personal choice in family matters, as protected by the Constitution.

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  • Meanwhile elsewhere in the Americas, the curse of Catholic theocracy is interfering in women’s medical services to ensure poverty and child depravation, as usual!

    The Guatemalan army says it will block the activities of a non-profit “abortion boat” docked on its shores.

    The Dutch non-profit group, Women on Waves, offers free abortion services to women in countries where the procedure is banned.

    It takes women in the early stages of pregnancy out to international waters, where the abortion is performed.

    Abortion is banned in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation, except to save the mother’s life.

    The Army said it had been instructed by President Jimmy Morales to act, and would defend “human life and the laws of our country” by preventing the group from carrying out abortions.

    Officials are preventing activists from disembarking from the ship, and women will not be allowed to board the boat, reports say.

    The Women on Waves’ boat docked on the Pacific Ocean port of Quetzal, in the city of San Jose, on Wednesday.

    The group says it has a legal permit to sail in Guatemalan waters and the boat is being illegally “detained” by the authorities.

    It had planned to stay in the country for five days.

    The group says more than 60,000 illegal abortions are performed in Guatemala every year, and most of the women who put their lives at risk at the hands of untrained professionals are poor.

    However, Guatemala’s Catholic Church, other religious leaders and politicians protested against the presence of the boat.

    “The boat of death has arrived in Guatemala,” said lawmaker Raul Romero during a Congress session earlier on Wednesday.

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