A new play set to open in Calgary is stirring up controversy before the actors even take the stage. The Abortion Monologues, which will be performed on Feb. 4 at Mount Royal University, features dramatic monologues from 23 fictional female characters “at all ages and stages of reproductive life” speaking about their experiences with abortion, says author Jane Cawthorne.
Cawthorne, who left a job teaching women’s studies at Mount Royal a couple of years ago to pursue writing full-time, spent two decades volunteering with not-for-profit groups in the field of women’s health and reproductive rights; the play was inspired by some of the stories she heard. “I felt that the public discussion on abortion was polarized, and didn’t reflect what goes on in the real lives of women,” says the Calgary-based writer, who describes herself as pro-choice. Last year, The Abortion Monologues premiered in Portland, Ore., to a crowd of almost 400 people; roughly 300 are expected at next week’s performance, with tickets almost sold out.
Leah Hallman, who leads the student group Campus Pro-Life at the University of Calgary, compares it to “a play about slavery from the perspective of slave owners, and not of the slaves.” The club is considering picketing the performance, and judging from Campus Pro-Life’s history, it might not be empty talk: CPL attracted national attention two years ago for erecting graphic displays around the U of C campus that compared abortion to the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide. The university sued Campus Pro-Life for trespassing. (Charges were stayed; Campus Pro-Life maintains its official club status.)
Cawthorne says most of her characters—including a woman in her seventies looking back on her life as a nurse “and how it made her feel about her own experience with unintended pregnancy, in days when having an abortion was illegal”—are “tremendously ambivalent” about their decision. Her goal is to challenge everyone’s assumptions about the topic: “Whatever you believe about abortion, at some point in the play, you will be forced to think again,” she says.