After a dazzling and dizzying one woman performance by Madeline Burrows on Saturday night at the Davis Square Theatre, I was fired up. Not an altogether surprising response to a play titled “MOM BABY GOD,” in which Burrows embodies an eager, confused, and conflicted 15-year-old pro-life teen, and a few other right-wing zealots, all of whom influence and inspire the young, cupcake-loving girl during her most formative years. But I was fired up for reasons I didn’t expect; “MOM BABY GOD” exposes the right wing in all their unabashed fervor, but it also illuminates a glaring absence of an important character: the pro-abortion role model.
The problem—but only part of the problem—is that we are uncomfortable with the word “abortion” itself. If activist and actress Madeline Burrows’s one-woman show sheds light on anything, it’s how easy it is for the right to throw around the word “abortion.” Although, in “MOM BABY GOD”—and in the anti-choice version of reality—the word is weaponized. Synonymous with “murder,” “baby-killing,” and “genocide,” and associated with “sinner,” “slut,” and “shameful,” the A-word is nearly lost to the left wing who seek to support it. And that has to change. Using words and phrases like “pro-choice” and “reproductive justice” as strategic ambiguity in its place only suggests that we feel we need a euphemism, like we have something to apologize for.
To be clear, it’s not the responsibility of Burrows’ production to provide us with this character; her story stands solidly on its own two feet. However, the pro-abortion protaganist is a character that is absent from popular culture, theater, art, film and television. The closest that the left has is Claire Underwood of House of Cards, and her existence may be more problematic than triumphant for us. Her character is a strong-minded, sex-positive woman, who enjoys an open relationship and who has had—without regrets—three abortions. Yet she is also one of the series many anti-heroes, and her promiscuity and her reproductive choices are open to scrutiny and judgment the more and more she becomes a villain.
Reproductive rights in the arts, and particularly television and film, have always been unrealistic. For instance, in Juno, the eponymous pregnant teen is scared away from an abortion clinic—a caricature in itself—and gives up her baby for adoption and every one lives happily ever after. The women who choose abortions are portrayed on screen and on stage as broken or hyper-sexual people. Not since American Graffiti has there been a fair portrayal of a women’s decision to get an abortion. Additionally, the way that real women who tell their stories of abortion are often presented to look more like victims than they do of women exercising their freedoms (I’m thinking of a recent — well intentioned — photo essay in New York Magazine). I am obviously not suggesting that women need to celebrate abortions (which will be the unfortunate takeaway from those on the opposing side of the matter), but it should be OK for a woman to be just as comfortable with her decision to have an abortion as anti-choice women are with their chastity.
If we don’t have these representations in the arts or in the media, then we will never have real life public personas as well. And if Burrows’ cast of right wing role models (all drawn from real-life people) is any indicator, the anti-choice movement has no shortage of mentors.