‘Voices from the Silenced’: New Play Presents Women’s Painful Pre-Roe Abortion Stories

Interviews with Martha Boesing and Victoria Rue, co-playwrights and directors of "Voices from the Silenced," conducted by Melinda Tuhus

This week marks the second anniversary of the June 24th U.S. Supreme Court Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v Wade, which had protected Americans’ constitutional right to abortion for nearly five decades. 

After the court ruling, two women living at the Rossmoor retirement community in Walnut Creek, California, began working on a play whose script derived from the painful stories of women now in their 70s to 90s who had abortions before it was legal, meaning before Roe v Wade was decided in 1973. Some of those same women also acted in the play.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with the creators of the play titled, “Voices From the Silenced.” The two co-writers and directors of the play are Martha Boesing, a retired artistic director of a professional women’s theater in Minneapolis, and Victoria Rue, a Roman Catholic woman priest, who also wrote and directed many plays. Here they describe the process of creating the play with support from the American Medical Women’s Association, which is now distributing a video of the play nationally. We hear first from Martha Boesing.

MARTHA BOESING: When we decided to do this, Victoria talked about getting stories from women here, who had had abortions before the Roe decision, which had circumstances very like what’s going on today.

So, we did that, and we based the play, we wrote the play around that concept of these stories. Well, the actors were cast out of auditions and some of their stories were in the play but many of them were not. I think that’s what made the whole group so engaged in this and so engaged with each other, is that the issue was so important in everybody’s lives; they just felt like if they had not themselves gone through this – even back-alley abortions – they knew someone who had.

We have a good friend who lives here who’s a wonderful painter and artist and works with paper and  glue. She made six puppets, or heads, of people from SCOTUS, the Supreme Court. They came in early in a little truck where they could be stood up, and loomed over the whole play, watching it. There’s a scene with them with actual comments made by the Supreme Court justices about Dobbs.

VICTORIA RUE: The play is divided into five sections, Melinda, that might be interesting to hear. The first section is Shame, and we all know that that was really key to women who were not telling their stories prior to this, out of shame.

And the second section is called The Decision Itself, which is very much about all the issues that come into play when you are making this decision to have or not have an abortion: poverty, am I going to be able to feed the children I already have, can’t afford an abortion itself, including shame.

The third section is called The Abortion, and those are stories, many of which are back-alley abortions; abortions in Tijuana, for example, and botched abortions.

The fourth section is Grief, a grief ritual, which is really a lamentation, sorrows and grief.

And the fifth section is Resistance, which connects, I think, the whole play, and it’s really based on the success of women in Colombia, Argentina and Mexico, who have voted and gotten others to vote, for reproductive freedom.

I think there’s a line in the play that says, “They tore down the laws that criminalized abortion.” And as we know there are many other countries now that have decriminalized abortion.

We performed it at Rossmoor, where Martha and I both live. And the woman who produced the play for us here at Rossmoor, had friends who were in the film world: Mindy Zuckerman. And she got all of those people to come and film the play.

Martha and I are talking about the play, but what people are going to be able to see when they go to our website, which is voicesfromthesilenced.com – what they’re going to be able to see is the play that has been edited by Gary Weinberg, and that play is taking advocacy theater, which is visually reimagined in this 57-minute film. He’s done extraordinary work, so I’m hoping people will watch the 57-minute film of the play and they can show it to their friends. They can use it however they want to use it. Just go to the website. It’s free.

MELINDA TUHUS: What’s your message to women of child-bearing age, or to politicians, even? Or maybe they’re different messages.

MARTHA BOESING: Vote! If there was any wish behind this whole experience, is that it will move people, particularly undecided people, who might say, “Aw, I don’t think I’ll bother to vote,” who would see this and realize, “I’ve got to go vote. And I’ve to go vote for the women who are in such suffering right now. I’ve got to vote for them.”

So that we get politicians in the government who will not go with all the things that are happening in the states and make a federal law that women have the right to choose. They’ll bring Roe back.

For more information, visit “Voices From the Silenced” play at voicesfromthesilenced.com, watch the trailer: “Voices From the Silenced,” watch the film of the play: “Voices From the Silenced.” 

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