Of the eight Millennium Development Goals, many experts agree that progress on MDG5—reducing maternal mortality by 75 percent—is perhaps the most dismal. While UN agencies last week announced a 34% decline in deaths during pregnancy and childbirth, more than 350,000 women still die senselessly due to preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. And for each woman who dies, thousands more suffer debilitating injuries.
The 2007 film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days brings to life a story that is rarely highlighted in the call to action for maternal health: the 70,000 deaths and injuries caused each year by unsafe abortion. Set in Romania when abortion was illegal, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days tells the story of two university students, friends Otilia and Gabita who arrange an abortion for Gabita.
The audience accompanies them on this intense and emotional journey, made even more powerful by the cramped sets and lingering camera shots. The viewer is with the women when they locate an unqualified provider to do the procedure, a man who demands sex from Otilia and Gabita before performing the abortion in a hotel room; when they desperately scrounge to find the money to pay him; and as they endure the painful physical and emotional side effects of undergoing an illegal and unsafe abortion. Nowhere is the point made more clear than in the film’s opening and closing images: The beginning shot of two goldfish swimming in a bowl and the last frame of the two women behind the tall glass windows of a restaurant highlight both the vulnerability and isolation of Otilia and Gabita’s position.In the 21st century no woman should die or suffer the traumas of an unsafe or illegal abortion. As 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days so poignantly and tragically emphasizes, access to safe abortion services is fundamental to a woman’s ability to exercise her rights to control her body, to self-determination, and to maintain her health, and is a critical piece of the full package needed to both reduce maternal death and achieve maternal health.