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Powerful New Film Looks Behind Slogans and Faceless Statistics on Abortion to Illustrate What is Really at Stake

October 19, 2004

Vera Drake takes a square look at abortion access with urgency and humanity.

WASHINGTON DC—On Tuesday, October 19, Catholics for a Free Choice and other organizations that support women’s reproductive health choices sponsored a special advance screening of writer/director Mike Leigh’s award-winning new film about back-alley abortion, Vera Drake.

Shown to acclaim at both the Venice and the New York Film Festivals, Vera Drake stars Imelda Staunton and reunites director Leigh with Phil Davis from his Academy Award-nominated Secrets & Lies (1996), Peter Wight from Naked (1993) and Heather Craney from Topsy Turvey (1999).

Leigh’s latest film reminds viewers of the history of illegal abortion and its potential future. By taking a sober look at a provider of illegal abortion in 1950s’ London, Vera Drake makes clear that when access to legal abortion is denied, women resort to back alleys.

Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, introduced the film to a capacity crowd. By framing the film in a modern context, Kissling articulated both the challenges and the real threats women all over the world face today as they seek to access abortion services.

“Vera Drake, both the film and the character, have been on my mind since I first saw the film a month ago. Reliving what many of our mothers went through in the 40s, 50s and 60s—working women caught pregnant and largely abandoned by partners and doctors—makes one wonder what would happen if the Vatican and the Bush administration had their way with women today,” Kissling said of the film. “Vera Drake, the working class heroine who provided as safe an abortion as possible, could teach the world’s religious leaders a lot about the meaning of compassion and justice—and the complexity of life. Getting them to listen is the hard part.”

The film’s sympathetic depiction of the individuals behind the rhetoric grants viewers an opportunity to consider both their own values and the real repercussions of restricting abortion. From the 1950s through 1960s, it is estimated that there were anywhere from 200,000 to 1.2 million illegal abortions in the United States each year, resulting in a significant number of deaths and injuries to the health and future fertility of American women. Today, the World Health Organization estimates that in countries where abortion remains unsafe and largely illegal, it is the highest cause of maternal mortality, contributing to the death of 78,000 women each year.

Vera Drake will open in Washington DC and other cities around the country on October 22nd.