In 2008, at the time of its release, the abortion scene in Revolutionary Road created some controversy. Some reviewers thought it glorified abortion, others thought it shed bad light on at-home abortions. But I think it is unfortunate that the scene where April Wheeler gives herself an abortion stole the thunder from the other scene, where her husband Frank accuses her of being a selfish woman. In fact, he goes as far as to wonder if she is insane and in need of therapy.

This scene encapsulates a way of thinking that permeated American suburbia in the 1950s: “real” women want to be wives and mothers, and “real” men have the potency to become fathers and provide for their wives.  (The movie also shows that in order to feel like “real” men they also something have sexual liaisons at their workplace with women who are placed under them).

April Wheeler tries to defy this culture, by moving to Paris, finding a job and supporting her husband, while he does some soul searching. This immediately makes him seem a lesser man to his friends, co-workers and neighbors, and Frank attacks April’s feelings for her children in an attempt to make her feel inferior. The abortion – which he is not all together opposed to at first – becomes his tool for putting her in her place, and making sure he retains his control over her.

Husbands deriving a sense of power from controlling their wife’s fertility is not peculiar to America. Nor can we blame individual men. This is a global issue, which originates in patriarchal principles that force women to remain the subordinates of men, and teach men to derive a sense of importance in subjugating women.

At the youth advocacy institute we held in November, we asked our youth if it is okay for a man to divorce his wife for an abortion she had without his knowledge. It created some confusion, because most of the participants immediately asked if she isn’t better of without him. But as Manisha Gupte, the Founder of MASUM our expert facilitator for the day, pointed out, “She is better off without him because the marriage is broken in the first place if she felt safer going behind his back for the abortion. But the abortion itself should not be his reason for divorcing her. Their difference of opinion can be.” If abortion becomes the reason for divorce it incriminates the woman, and forces her to believe that her actions were wrong.

Before I close this blog, I think we should also talk about at-home abortions. The movie shows an abortion from the 1950s that a woman with no knowledge of the procedure performs on herself. The last scene of the movie, which shocked most viewers, portrays her desperation and loneliness. But not all at-home abortions done at the time failed.

In today’s times, we have more advanced technology and better help for women who need an abortion, without the knowledge of their husband. Women can find help online and through hotlines.  Trained counselors explain the procedure – particularly with at-home medical abortions – and give women an accurate idea of the possible dangers like hemorrhage and infections.

ASAP has helped set-up two very successful hotlines in Asia in Pakistan and Indonesia. A similar hotline has now come up in Thailand as well.

0307-4940707(Urdu, Punjabi)
0315-9473399(Urdu, Sindhi)
0315-9473399(Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi)


083 9944 212: 8-10 am daily
089 0063 948: 16.30 daily
084 4634 647: 6-10 pm Mon-Tues
086 5170 544: 6-9 pm Wed-Sun

Women on Web have a list of hotline numbers for the whole world: