What Abortion Rights Have To Do With Annie Ernaux, Brand New Nobel Winner For Literature

In 1963, Annie Ernaux, 23 and unattached, realizes she is pregnant. Shame arises in her like a plague: Understanding that her pregnancy will mark her and her family as social failures, she knows she cannot keep that child.

Trigger Warning: This speaks of unsafe abortions and maternal death, and may be triggering for survivors.

I just saw the news of the new Nobel winner for Literature, Annie Ernaux.

She is called a pioneer in autofiction, and the tweet put out by the Nobel Prize official handle says, ‘The 2022 #NobelPrize in Literature is awarded to the French author Annie Ernaux “for the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory.”’

— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) October 6, 2022

So of course I immediately wanted to go and check out her books, originally in French, but widely translated into English, as I found out.

And I was struck by one particular book. Happening. In which she writes about her experiences as a young woman, a long time ago.

Never miss real stories from India's women.

Register Now

The blurb says:

//In 1963, Annie Ernaux, 23 and unattached, realizes she is pregnant. Shame arises in her like a plague: Understanding that her pregnancy will mark her and her family as social failures, she knows she cannot keep that child.

This is the story, written forty years later, of a trauma Ernaux never overcame. In a France where abortion was illegal, she attempted, in vain, to self-administer the abortion with a knitting needle. Fearful and desperate, she finally located an abortionist, and ends up in a hospital emergency ward where she nearly dies.

In Happening, Ernaux sifts through her memories and her journal entries dating from those days. Clearly, cleanly, she gleans the meanings of her experience.//

The lack of abortion rights can be devastating

I am reminded of Gloria Steinem, who has famously spoken of her 22 year old self, as an American in London, pregnant, and frightened. And all the tragic ways this could have ended. Gloria Steinem would have remained the same person, probably, but we could imagine the lost possibilities if she had not been able to get that “secret” abortion at a time it was still illegal. Or if she had not had the good fortune to survive it.

Or of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian woman in Ireland before they changed their abortion laws, who lost her life senselessly.

As this source says, Savitha was admitted to the hospital in Galway with 17 weeks of pregnancy and a severe backache. “Within hours, medical staff at the hospital had suggested to Savita that a miscarriage was inevitable. When Savita sought an abortion, she was refused as a foetal heartbeat could be heard… Savita was diagnosed with infection and she later went into septic shock. Although the medical team had by then decided to medically induce an abortion, it was too late. Savita miscarried and was subsequently admitted to intensive care, where she died on October 28, 2012.”

If she could have got abortion services when she approached the doctors, she would have been alive.

Loss of millions of possibilities and millions of lives of women

And this is where the recent overturning of Roe vs Wade is going to lead to. Millions of women are going to either lose the possibilities of who they can be, or their lives.

And let’s not think that “this is only the US, and only in states that uphold the regressive laws, c’mon, progressive states like New York and California are helping these women…” Because once the fundamentalists and conservatives get their teeth in, it becomes really difficult, and salami tactics get people where some of us are.

So yes, Congratulations to Annie Ernaux for the Nobel, and let’s look at the cautionary tale there – of unwanted, accidental pregnancies leading to loss of possibilities or lives. She may have still been the award winning author. But an early, unwanted pregnancy and its social implications could have completely killed many possibilities.

Image source: By NARAL Pro-Choice America – 020418_Newman_Steinem_Chicago_IL_CD_0670, CC BY 2.0, Link, YouTube, and BBC

Liked this post?

Register at Women's Web to get our weekly mailer and never miss out on our events, contests & best reads! Or - get a couple of really cool reads on your phone every day - click here to join our Telegram channel.

Women's Web is an open platform that publishes a diversity of views. Individual posts do not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions at all times. If you have a complementary or differing point of view, sign up and start sharing your views too!


About the Author

sandhya renukamba

In her role as the Senior Editor & Community Manager at Women's Web, Sandhya Renukamba is fortunate to associate every day with a whole lot of smart and fabulous writers and readers. A doctor read more...

106 Posts | 684,103 Views

Stay updated with our Weekly Newsletter or Daily Summary - or both!

Women Leaders in Communications Discuss The Responsible 5G Revolution We Need

All Categories