Joking about abortion: New York show tackles divisive US subject

·3-min read

America is bitterly divided over abortion. But on stage in New York, comedian Alison Leiby tries to lift taboos surrounding the right by making people laugh at her own experience of ending a pregnancy.

In "Oh God, A Show About Abortion," the 38-year-old takes up the challenge of making light of a subject that can be very delicate and difficult for many.

With a large dose of self-mockery, Leiby portrays herself as a New York anti-heroine, who has no dreams of motherhood and considers herself incapable of managing her finances and fails to keep her cactus alive.

But above all, Leiby downplays the medical procedure and its aftermath, recounting a banal Saturday in New York that did not leave her feeling discomfort or guilt.

"I thought that I just had not seen a lot of depictions or stories in pop culture or in a documentary or in interviews. I never hear people talk about the kind of abortion I had," Leiby told AFP, describing her experience as "not traumatic."

"This kind of abortion is incredibly common, at least in places where abortion is accessible. So I thought that maybe it would be worth telling that story to kind of destigmatise how afraid many are."

Leiby says she is after laughs but also wants the show to be "an easy way to start talking about a difficult thing for people."

She admits that she is aware of her privilege as a white, heterosexual women who lives in a state where abortion is legal.

"A lot of other people don't have that kind of safety and don't have that kind of access," Leiby said.

The hour-long show, which has been running since April, was given impetus on the evening of May 2 when a leaked draft decision showed that the Supreme Court was planning to overturn Roe v. Wade, ending 50 years of nationwide access to abortion.

"It certainly made the show just take on more meaning for me performing it every day, and it feels more political," said Leiby.

- 'Scary' -

Last week, one performance ended with a Q&A with Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, an advocacy group that campaigns for abortion rights.

"This show is terrific because it addresses stigma around abortion," Northup told AFP.

"I think that she brought humanity and a real sense of urgency... (that) we need to be talking about abortion more," she added.

Leiby also tackles in a raw and uninhibited way contraception, being a woman who does not want to have kids, and periods, calculating quickly on stage that they can take up 2,000 days or six years of a woman's life.

Many themes spoke directly to members of the audience, which were overwhelmingly women.

"I'm someone that doesn't want to have kids of my own," said Briana Gio, a social worker who grew up in Oklahoma, a state that recently signed America's most restrictive abortion ban.

"(But) we go through this phase. All of a sudden we have this moment of, am I getting too old? And then also just the fact that people are like, 'You're gonna regret it.' I hear that a lot from my mother," the 30-year-old added.

Leiby would like to take her show away from New York and its liberal audiences. But she is wary.

"There are people that have messaged me (saying) please bring this to Kentucky, bring this to West Virginia. We need this.

"(But) the people who do want it (Roe v. Wade) overturned are very, very active and present and involved in that belief in a way that can feel very scary."

For now, her show's run in Manhattan has been extended to June 30.

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