Time to get personal.
In the past year, how often have you thought about the obstacles women encounter in getting an abortion? Never? Rarely? Sometimes? Always?
Roughly one in four women will have an abortion by age 45 -- most of them low-income or poor -- and almost 60% of women of reproductive age live in a state considered hostile to abortion procedures. Combine those statistics and you have on your hands a massive public health crisis. Yet the repercussions are rarely discussed on a personal level. We are frequently bombarded with news about new state laws, protests, court cases; but how many women do you know who have had an abortion? Do you know what the procedure was like? How much it cost? Where the clinic was located? What was sacrificed in the exercise of her reproductive freedoms? Probably not. Enter Never Rarely Sometimes Always, a new indie film written and directed by Eliza Hittman. It follows the story of two teenagers -- Autumn and her cousin Skylar -- as they travel from rural Pennsylvania to New York City so that Autumn can get an abortion without having to obtain parental consent. The girls have limited funds, no place to sleep, and no real idea what to expect. All they know is that this is their only hope of rerouting Autumn’s life so she isn’t trapped in a role she doesn’t want and can’t afford. The film passes on intimate character development in order to illuminate the challenges facing a woman with an unwanted pregnancy and no easy means of getting an abortion. This is not a narrative about Autumn, per se; it’s a story about the difficult steps that comprise her journey. Though we are introduced to Autumn in a vulnerable moment -- at a high school talent show -- and watch some revealing family interactions, the film quickly evolves into a procedural. We see Autumn take a self-administered test and find out that yes, a positive is always a positive. The lady at the pregnancy clinic shows her a film confirming that abortion is murder. Autumn learns that she has to travel out of state to get an abortion -- unless she wants to tell her parents. She tries instead to abort at home, using non-invasive techniques gleaned from a Google search. That fails. She gets morning sickness and throws up at work. And eventually she and Skylar board a bus for New York. That’s just the beginning. We don’t find out much about their backgrounds, their personalities, their day-to-day lives. Hittman sprinkles in just enough details so that we understand some of the whys, but not enough to overwhelm the focal point of the film -- the hows, and specifically, the sacrifices required for Autumn to get a necessary medical procedure. Although you may not come out of the film with a lasting connection to Autumn or Skylar’s characters, the chances are good you’ll leave with a greater appreciation for the procedural and social obstacles women have to navigate at a time of intense stress and pressure. If you’re one of the millions of women who have had an abortion, you may see something of your own experience on screen for the first time. And there are beautiful moments in the film -- some of my favorite -- where one woman reaches out to another to grab her hand, to let her know that she has support. That is perhaps what I love most about Never Rarely Sometimes Always. It’s as if Hittman is reaching out to the women in her audience, letting us know that it’s okay, she sees us. Our stories are important and the challenges we face matter. That we are never really alone.