This week the International Herald Tribune and others were highlighting the "harrowing portrait" of abortion in communist era Romania which won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival on Sunday. Far from the red carpets of Cannes, how useful is the publicity for Cristian Munju's film "Four Months, Three Weeks, And Two Days"?
Deputy Director General of The International Planned Parenthood Federation Lyn Thomas spent two decades working with national organizations such as Societatea de Educatie Contraceptiva si Sexuala (SECS), promoting the need for access to modern contraception and also safe and legal abortion. "Any film or documentary that provokes debate about illegal abortion is important, as long as it does not demonise women in the process. And in too many countries in Europe—even today—the temptation is to blame and shame women who do seek abortion," says Thomas.
"These moments of publicity need to be exploited," says Dr Borbala Koo, Director of SECS in Romania. She says there are three main reasons why she welcomes the publicity for the film.
Firstly, because "20 to 30 year olds here in Romania are ambivalent about abortion because they did not experience the years where so many women's lives were threatened by illegal abortion. The film is an important reminder of how difficult and frightening it was for women at that time." Secondly, although abortion is legal in Romania today, Dr Koo says the film should encourage us all to remember that "women who seek abortion must be treated with respect, not blame or judgment."
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Finally, Dr Koo hopes that the film will remind the international donor community that more support is needed today for women's reproductive health in Romania. "There are still many many Romanian women who are not accessing modern contraception. The contraceptives are in the pharmacies, but they are too expensive or women do not know about how to use them. We do need more support for the SECS message of From Abortion To Contraception," Koo concludes.
Back in Cannes, Muniu was quoted as saying that his victory proved that you don't need big budgets to make successful movies. SECS does not need Hollywood-style multi-million dollar budgets to continue its work. But they do need greater financial support in what Dr Koo describes as a critical time for reproductive health in Romania. Publicity is publicity. Funding is funding. And I hope that the donor community will look beyond the past to support ongoing projects in Romania, which are helping young women to avoid some of the choices Muniu's female characters had to make in his film.