NL 2007/10

Doris Lessing denounces consequences of ban abortion

Literature and arts convey social and political messages

Recent Nobel prize laureate Doris Lessing has chronicled in her oeuvre the untold harm caused by abortion’s ban.

In her autobiographical book „In pursuit of the English“ (1960), she describes her difficult start in London in the 1950s as a single mum with no money at all.

With her small son she stays in one of London’s working-class rooming houses. With empathy she depicts her fellow lodgers’ joys and twinges. One of the colourful mix of inmates is Mrs. Skeffington, a genteel woman, neglected by her husband. She herself treats her child badly and desperately resorts to every known means to induce abortion when pregnant again.

She cannot turn to a doctor since abortion is not legal in England prior to 1967 (1975 in Austria). Her fellow lodgers are shrewd and cover up for her. The author ist he only one who tries to intervene:

„Next day Mr. Skeffington went on a business trip and we never saw him again. One morning I heard a crash outside my door. Mrs Skeffington had thrown herself down one flight of stairs, was on the point of flinging herself down a second. 'Leave me alone,' she muttered, and before I could stop her, she launched herself into space again. On the landing below she picked herself up, slowly, slowly, gasping and pale. 'That ought to shift it,' she said, with an attempt at a smile, and dragged herself, breathing heavily, up the stairs to Rosemary."
"How about a doctor for Mrs. Skeffington?"
"My Lord, are you crazy, do you want her to go to prison?"
"She might die!"
"She won’t die. There’s a time for doctors. Mrs. Skeffington’s managed without, and good luck to her, and I didn’t think she had that much fight in her.... But you call a doctor now, sweetheart, and you’ll do for her, you will really..."

In 1967, Great Britain was Western Europe’s first country to legalize the abortion. Literally overnight, womens’ health improved dramatically and mortality rates fell sharply.

Presently another amendment is under discussion: In 1967, it was considered progressive to require that a woman obtain the certificates of doctors for an abortion. Today this requirement is seen as totally outdated. It is one of the reasons why women in England have their abortion much later than in all other Western European countries.

Come and read quotes from more than 200 years of literature, from Bertold Brecht to Arnold Zweig, in Vienna’s Museum of Contraception and Abortion.
Wednesday through Sunday 14 -18 h. Mariahilfer Guertel 37, A-1150 Wien (Austria)