With the recent challenges to abortion laws and availability in the United States, we cannot forget the importance of having access to safe, legal abortions. What women must suffer through to procure an illegal abortion is appalling, and is wonderfully depicted in the 2007 Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, directed by Cristian Mungiu. The films follows Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), a young woman who helps her roommate Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) procure an illegal abortion from a man named Bebe (Vlad Ivanov) during Nicolae Ceausescu’s Communist regime.
Nearly the entire first half of the film depicts the challenge of getting the abortion. Otilia has to acquire the money to pay for the abortion, find a hotel to stay at until Gabita recovers, and meet with Bebe. From here, numerous problems arise. Bebe is furious that the women are staying at a hotel he did not recommend, Gabita lies about how far her pregnancy has progressed, and Bebe demands more money. He threatens to leave until Otilia grudgingly has sex with him. The abortion itself is depicted quickly and shown to be a relatively uncomplicated procedure, further emphasizing the difficulties in obtaining one. For something so simple, the grief Otilia and Gabita went through is horrifying.
The question of choice is also discussed thoroughly. Bebe leaves as soon as his work is finished, and after making sure Gabita is comfortable, Otilia leaves to see her boyfriend Adi (Alexandru Potocean). After eating dinner with Adi’s parents and family friends, the couple head to his bedroom for some privacy. Otilia admits to helping Gabita have an abortion, and Adi is not impressed. Otilia then questions what they would do if they were in Gabita’s situation, as Adi ejaculated inside her the last time they had sex. It is implied that she might be pregnant, and she asks for Adi’s help in case she would ever need an abortion. This entire scene consists of one long take, allowing the viewer to fully experience the tension between Adi and Otilia, as well as imploring them to question what their own abortion choice would be. Adi is ambivalent about the question and they are interrupted by his mother before they can reach a solid decision. Otilia must return to the hotel to check on Gabita, and the state of the couple’s relationship remains uncertain.
Gabita has expelled the fetus while Otilia was away. She leaves it on the bathroom, wrapped in towels, resulting in the film’s most unsettling shot. Otilia is instructed to bury it, against the advice of Bebe; if buried, dogs would find it. Otilia leaves the hotel with the fetus in her bag, and runs through the night in search of a trash chute where she can safely dispose of it. The sequence is dark, filled with shadows and strange noises that unsettle both Otilia and the viewer. Otilia is petrified of being caught, and quickly moves between buildings. The darkness can be interpreted as symbolic of the secrecy surrounding illegal abortion; all evidence of it is hidden, just as Otilia hides herself in shadows. She succeeds in her mission, and once more returns to the hotel to find Gabita waiting in the restaurant. Gabita says that she has a fever and asks if Otilia buried the fetus; Otilia declares they are never to speak of this incident again. The film closes with the two women sitting in silence, allowing the viewer to ponder their fates.
4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days doesn’t appear to have a clear pro- or anti-choice message, opting instead to emphasize the importance of having a choice at all. Otilia does not judge Gabita for choosing to abort her fetus and simply helps her succeed in her choice; Bebe also mentions he doesn’t judge women who make the choice that is best for them. The film also mentions the prevalence of abortion providers while abortion is outlawed: other abortionists are mentioned in addition to Bebe, and at least three women in their residence have had abortions. Women will always find a way to have an abortion if that is what they choose to do with their body, in spite of legal restrictions. The film made me reflect on how lucky I am to live in a country where I am free to choose what I want to do with my body and that abortion is readily available should I ever need one. All women should be free to choose to keep or terminate their pregnancies. When we deny women that choice, we deny them their right to live as they want, something Gabita and Otilia prize over anything else.