The opening scene of the movie is frightening. A desperate teenage girl has a hood thrown over her head as she is shoved into the back of a car and driven to a secret destination where an abortion is performed.
In a dingy room clearly rife with bacteria, the abortionist performs his duty with carelessness, his hardfaced offsider rough and mean with their tender, terrified patient.
It’s a “backyard abortion” gone wrong, and later the child dies in hospital with her distraught parents by her side.
“I had the same experience as the girl in the opening scene,” the academic Anne Summers (right) wrote yesterday.
“Being butchered by a backyard operator in Melbourne in the 1960s, being blindfolded before being driven to the suburban house where the abortion was performed.
“The only difference was that I did not die, because I was lucky enough to get professional medical help in time.
“It is incredible to think that it is only 40 years since the Victorian police controlled abortion in that State (the same happened in NSW) and desperate women, especially those who did not have the money for the qualified doctors operating out of private hospitals, risked their lives to end unwanted pregnancies.”
“I’m so glad the story of this awful era is finally being told.”
This story Summers speaks of is Dangerous Remedy, an ABC-TV telemovie screening this Sunday night. It is, at heart, the story of famed abortion crusader Dr Bertram Wainer who challenged entrenched police corruption to fight for reform in reproductive rights.
Although it’s an historical drama, producer Ned Landers says: “Abortion remains a very real issue for Australian women today. It was only two years ago in Queensland that a young woman and her boyfriend were prosecuted for using the abortion pill,” he said.
“In researching the film, women shared with me memories of the painful, dangerous and humiliating experiences they had suffered in seeking abortions.”
Certainly there are many such painful experiences captured in this excellent film.
“Abortion is always a bad thing,” the real Dr Wainer once said, but it was, he believed, preferable to have it regulated and safe than have it driven underground.
Jeremy Sims (pictured below, right) is compelling as the driven Dr Wainer, portrayed as a man deeply ambivalent about his life’s work in helping girls and women have access to safe abortion in a time when shame dictated so much of women’s sexuality.
Although he singlemindedly fought for women’s right to choose (assisted mightily by his wife and women’s rights activist Jo Wainer, played by Maeve Dermody), and for the notion that every child should be a wanted child, Wainer was clearly saddened by the need for abortion at all.
One particularly confronting scene of Dangerous Remedy, which is based on Wainer’s own book It Isn’t Nice, shows the doctor forcing his own young daughter to look at an aborted fetus in a jar. It illustrates so succinctly all the shades of grey that exist within the abortion debate.
Abortion, he tells his horrified daughter, “is the lesser of two evils.”
This is the deep and everlasting value of a program like Dangerous Remedy: it highlights complexity in a debate too often characterized by polar extremes, by black and white.
It’s also a sobering reminder that it is not so long since women’s repressed reproductive rights could lead to their deaths. There are still people who wish for this – for women’s rights to be repealed.
Right to Lifers would have you believe that women and men fighting for a women’s right to terminate a pregnancy celebrate abortion.
But as US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton once so very neatly put it: “I have met thousands and thousands of pro-choice men and women. I have never met anyone who is pro-abortion.”
Dangerous Remedy screens on ABC-TV this Sunday night at 8.30 pm, starring a brilliant cast including Jeremy Sims, Susie Porter, William McInnes, Maeve Dermody, and Gary Sweet.
MORE ARTICLES BY LUCY CLARK
*Lucy (Editor of The Hoopla) is a journalist and editor with almost thirty years experience in newspapers and magazines in Sydney, London, and New York. She has been published in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Daily and Sunday Telegraphs, Vogue Living, Australian Art Review, and Gourmet Traveller. Most recently the Books Editor of the Sunday Telegraph, she has also contributed to the non-fiction books, Australia Through Time, and What Women Want. You can follow her on Twitter: @lucykateclark.