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John J. Conley, S.J.October 17, 2023

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022), returning the question of abortion to the individual states, has provoked an obvious political earthquake. But it has also shaken many professional organizations. I was recently drafted into the culture of death by a professional organization to which I belong.

I received an issue of The Dramatist, the trade magazine of the Dramatists Guild, a professional dues-based organization for playwrights. (I have been a member of the Dramatists Guild since 2007.) The issue was a sumptuous celebration of the artistic achievement of Stephen Sondheim. But tucked among the glossy tributes to the creator of “A Little Night Music” and “Sweeney Todd” was an austere message from the Guild’s emergency fund. It was framed in black.

I was saddened but not surprised by the pro-abortion position of the dramatists guild. 

The announcement from the Dramatist Guild Foundation read as follows: “Emergency Grant applications are open to playwrights, composers, lyricists, and librettists where reproductive health care is, or will soon be, banned or limited. These grants could help provide financial assistance for abortion, contraception, related procedures, and travel expenses.”

I was saddened but not surprised by the pro-abortion position of the guild. Pro-lifers in the arts and academe have long known the opprobrium which their convictions will meet. I was irritated that my dues will go in part to fund abortions. But I am not about to surrender my membership. Material cooperation with evil is an ancient and knotty dilemma in moral philosophy.

What struck me was what was absent in this announcement. The guild promises to provide funds for abortions and transportation to abortion clinics. But there is no offer of funds for prenatal and postnatal care for a pregnant playwright in financial straits who wants to keep her child. There is no offer of a grant to finance an adoption if the pregnant playwright so desires. This is not a theoretical question. Few playwrights can make a living on the royalties from the productions of their plays. Many work as freelance writers, a perilous profession with fluctuating remuneration and often inadequate health insurance. Proponents of abortion have often claimed that they are only defending “choice,” but the choice offered by the guild lies in only one direction. And it is a lethal one.

The dramatist guild’s obsession with abortion is not confined to promoting and financing it. Since Dobbs, it has encouraged the creation of pro-abortion works.

The guild’s obsession with abortion is not confined to promoting and financing it. Since Dobbs, it has encouraged the creation of pro-abortion works by dramatists. In June, it recommended that guild members attend a Zoom workshop hosted by Theatre Communication Group. The session was “a responsive virtual gathering for abortion rights and reproductive justice. Theatres and theatre artists (including Guild members) have increasingly been making work about reproductive rights. The event is intended to provide an opportunity for processing, for planning, for resource-sharing, and for building community.” Future sessions will encourage playwrights to work “in collaboration with reproductive justice activists.” We appear ready to receive our artistic marching orders from Planned Parenthood.

As an example of the sort of pro-abortion art playwrights should produce, the Guild praises “The Appointment,” a play by Alice Yorke recently produced by Lightning Rod Special, a theatrical company in Philadelphia. “In ‘The Appointment’ they take a look at the way abortion is talked about in American society. Based on their work of shadowing people at real-life abortion clinics, Yorke and company use humor (dancing fetuses!) and inventive formats to discuss a topic that’s being extremely relevant in the light of constant threats to bodily autonomy.” Apparently, the new artistic mission of playwrights is to turn abortion into a joke worthy of musical comedy.

Like the academic community, the artistic community talks endlessly about diversity and inclusion. But there is one type of diversity that will not be tolerated: diversity of ideas. Despite the guild’s passion for oxymoronic “abortion rights,” pro-life playwrights exist. Phelim McAleer’s “Oh Gosnell: A Show About the Truth” is a militant anti-abortion drama, based on the transcript of the trial of the notorious abortionist Kermit Gosnell. (In 2013, Gosnell was found guilty of killing three infants born alive after abortions he performed in his Philadelphia clinic.) The play became a cause celebre in 2022, when New York’s Theatre Row canceled its contract to house the drama’s premiere. When it opened at another New York City theater, it played to sold-out houses and garnered widespread press coverage.

Several contemporary playwrights have treated abortion with tragic ambiguity. Terrence McNally’s “Master Class” (1995) grimly depicts the abortion Maria Callas underwent in a vain effort to maintain her romantic relationship with Aristotle Onassis. But for the moment, theatrical voices of dissent on this issue will be ignored or silenced. And the culture of death will recruit its dramatist press agents with greater fervor.

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