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November 9, 2009

“If These Walls Could Talk” – 1996 TV movie review

In 1996, a TV- series called If These Walls Could Talk was launched on the world. Focusing on three different points in time, it brought the never-ending abortion debate into the home with a level of graphic realizism never really seen before. While watching this film, I was physically uncomfortable and emotionally disturbed – and that was just the first segment, never mind the two that followed.

Segment one is 1952, starring Demi Moore as Claire Donnolley, a war widow who has had a tryst with her deceased husband’s brother and is now pregnant. As a nurse, she reaches out to another nurse and a doctor for help, and both times is met with disdain and disgust. Claire’s situation is hopeless until the previously disdainful nurse reaches out to her with a “number” – someone Claire can call to see about an abortion. What about the money? What about the circumstance? This is something that was NOT talked about in the 1950s, and Claire’s own sister-in-law (played by the wonderful Catherine Keener) is shocked and appalled by the eventual turn of events. Segment one displays, extremely graphically, what can happen when women are denied legal access to abortions – prepare to squirm, many times over.

Segment two is 1964, with Sissy Spacek as Barbara Burrows,  a married mother of 4 in the middle of her university studies who finds out – whoops – she’s pregnant! With two of her children in their adolesence to early adulthood and the other two in elementary school, Barbara is unsure if she really wants to have this baby or not. Her husband doesn’t even realize that there may be another option, but Barbara’s adolescent, “hip” daughter advises her that it’s her right to have an abortion if she wants to – after all, what about her studies? And how would the family afford another baby? This segment is not quite as “squirmy” as segment one, but it highlights beautifully the agony of the decision-making process, rather than glossing over it, allowing one to assuming that finally having the “right to choose” means that choosing is simple.

Segment three is 1996, and stars Anne Heche as Christine Cullen, an architectural student pregnant by her professor (Craig T. Nelson), and being pushed by her best friend (Jada Pinkett Smith) to keep the baby. Christine goes back and forth, back and forth, until she decides to visit the Planned Parenthood to see about an abortion. She is accosted by a group of Catholic women who beg her not to kill her unborn baby, and their guilt leads her to back out of her plan for an abortion. However, she makes a second appointment, with a very different outcome this time. Cher not only directed this entire film, but she appears in this segment as the doctor at the clinic, Dr. Beth Thompson. The best part of this segment, (besides Cher!) is the scene outside the Planned Parenthood clinic for Christine’s second appointment. On one side, the right-to-choose people, and on the other side, the anti-abortion people. Police are caught in the middle of the protest, and women attempting to enter the clinic (patients and workers both) require escorts, and are subjected to verbal and physical violence. This segment shows the pain a woman can go through, both to make the choice itself (as in segment two) and also the pain she goes through trying to implement her choice. As shown in this segment, “free choice” does not mean being free from people attacking you, guilting you, and preventing you from going through with your choice.

This film was powerful, gritty, ugly, moving and beautiful. As a woman young enough to have grown up in a world where abortion has always been legal, I found this film, particularly the first segment, to be particularly disturbing. It’s shocking for me to really realize that there was a time such as that, where a woman did not have the legal right to decide what happened to her own body. Watching this film will break your heart, hurt your body and unsettle your mind, and it is worth every single moment.

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