Roman Polanski — perhaps the most unlikely commentator on women’s rights — made ROSEMARY’s BABY at an idealistic time. In 1960, the first birth control pill Enovid was placed on the pharmaceutical market thanks in part to Margaret Sanger. While “the pill” was originally prescribed for menstrual disorders and irregularities most women were secretly using it to prevent pregnancies. By 1962, an unusually large number of women seemed to be paying a visit to their physicians for “menstrual disorders,” insisting on a prescription for Enovid. Despite the hidden health risks that could accompany this tiny pill, Enovid was the key to sexual freedom and bodily control that women desperately needed. And in 1965, the Supreme Court in case Griswold v. Connecticut acted as a turning point that eventually allowed women nationwide access to oral contraception.
On June 12, 1968, ROSEMARY’S BABY was unleashed in theaters. The following month, Pope Paul VI coincidentally released his infamous Humanae Vitae letter which reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s strong stance against the use of birth control. All of this occurred prior to Roe v. Wade. Women might have won the battle then, but the war remains ongoing.
While at Cannes in 2013, the long-exiled Polanski commented that gender equality was “idiotic” and that “it’s a result of progress in medicine and everything else.”
“The pill has changed greatly the women of our times,” Polanski mansplained, “it chases away the romance from our lives.”
What’s more frightening than Polanski’s claim is that it is not a far cry from the choice words spewed from the mouth of U.S. President Donald Trump — and ROSEMARY’S BABY perfectly resembles the return of antifeminist backlash against women’s reproductive rights in 2017.
Based on Ira Levin’s classic novel of the same title, ROSEMARY’S BABY follows the youthful Rosemary Woodhouse who becomes pregnant only after her husband Guy promises a child to their elderly satanist neighbors in exchange for fame. From the moment the ritual of conception begins, Rosemary loses authority over her mind and body.
Once it is confirmed that she is successfully with child, she becomes even more enslaved by a greater power. Her witchy old neighbors are choosing the doctor to deliver her baby, the doctor is urging her not to read books or take prenatal vitamins, and Guy is scolding her for taking advice from the “nosy bitches” that she calls her friends.
“What about what’s fair to me!” she cries.
Fifty years after the making of ROSEMARY’S BABY, women are once again asking about what’s fair to them. In 2015, undercover anti-abortion activists released graphic videos allegedly showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal body parts in an effort to persuade Republicans in the Senate to encourage a defunding measure. On March 6, 2017, the White House offered to maintain funding for Planned Parenthood… with one major stipulation: stop performing abortions. Planned Parenthood refused. Later that month, Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote that would push along a bill allowing states to block funding for Planned Parenthood.
The motion of this bill currently lies in the hands of President Donald Trump, who told The New York Times, “I would defund it [Planned Parenthood] because I’m pro-life.”
Women are rushing to the nearest Planned Parenthood facility or OB/GYN out of fear that this bill will pass and their bodies will no longer belong to them but rather to the patriarchal government.
In an interview with CNN, Dr. Anne Davis, an OB/GYN, states that “They [the receptionists] said, ‘That’s the third one we’ve had this morning who called saying ‘I need to get my IUD [intrauterine device] as soon as possible because I’m really worried I’m going to lose my coverage.’”
The horrifying truth sits in the statistical probability of such a bill making it onto a ballot and being voted favorably into our lives. Like in ROSEMARY’S BABY, the senior citizens are making all the big decisions and not just from inside the White House. The majority of voters in the United States are 70 years old and over and the majority of voters in this age group identify as conservative. The majority of conservatives (70%, according to a 2016 poll by the Pew Research Center) are against funding clinics that offer abortion services.
Without funding for clinics such as Planned Parenthood, access to birth control will be greatly limited, abortions could be out of the question, and women — like Rosemary — will be cornered into procreation because of something a society of elders who cannot bear children collectively decided. Perhaps even Roman Polanski himself had more liberal opinions on women’s reproductive rights in the swinging 60s but unfortunately sometimes with age comes intolerance.
“All of them. All of them witches.”
*All Photos: ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) Paramount Pictures