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An updated version of the play 'Roe' shows in states with abortion bans

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

When the play "Roe" premiered in 2016, the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade was still the law of the land. The play follows two major characters, Jane Roe and her attorney, as they wrestle with their own views on abortion. An updated version was recently staged in Louisiana, a state that now has a near-total abortion ban. Aubri Juhasz of member station WWNO reports. And a note - this story contains descriptions of abortion methods.

AUBRI JUHASZ, BYLINE: The abortion debate in the U.S. was far from settled when "Roe" the play premiered. Many believed it was just a matter of time before the 1973 ruling would be overturned, and they were right.

LORI PARQUET: You know, there are certain lines in the play that are not true in the state of Louisiana.

JUHASZ: Lori Parquet is the director of the state's first production of "Roe," put on this month by Louisiana State University's theater department in Baton Rouge. Even though the play was updated after Roe fell last year, Parquet says it doesn't feel totally up to date in a place where it's almost impossible to get an abortion. Still, its new opening line hits home.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARINA DEYOE-PEDRAZA: (As Sarah Weddington) Good evening. My name is Sarah Weddington, and I was the lawyer who argued Roe v. Wade. And tonight I deliver its obituary.

JUHASZ: The play's preview was sold out. Its 200 seats were filled mostly with college undergrads.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DEYOE-PEDRAZA: (As Sarah Weddington) Anyone here remember what it was like before Roe? That's all right. You weren't alive yet. Understandable.

JUHASZ: For students, the play is both historic and contemporary. They're living in a world without Roe for the first time, and it shows. Weddington talks about how before abortion was legal, some hospitals had entire wards dedicated to botched procedures and at-home attempts.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DEYOE-PEDRAZA: (As Sarah Weddington) Some women do it themselves. They take Lysol or turpentine. They use a telephone wire.

JUHASZ: From the audience, a trio of young men dropped their jaws in horror.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DEYOE-PEDRAZA: (As Sarah Weddington) These women shouldn't have to do this. It has to change.

JUHASZ: "Roe" is meant to show the many sides of the issue. The idea is to bridge the divide by focusing on the people behind the case and their own messy views on abortion. The play has seen a spike in popularity since Roe v. Wade fell, especially in states with tough abortion laws. Parquet, the director, says the role of theater is to help people understand the present.

PARQUET: And sometimes that means going into very charged territory.

KATE ZENOR: I hope everyone felt heard.

JUHASZ: Kate Zenor plays Linda Coffee, Weddington's co-counsel, and a number of other characters on both sides of the issue. Her family, including her 92-year-old grandfather, saw the show. They all oppose abortion rights.

ZENOR: My mom was asking me like, well, is the show pro-choice or pro-life? And I kind of told her, I'm like a lot of people who are pro-life think the show is too pro-choice, and a lot of people who are pro-choice kind of think the show is a bit too pro-life. So I'm like, we're kind of just aiming to make everyone mad a little bit.

JUHASZ: After the show, students were willing to share their thoughts on the play and some on abortion more generally, like Tyrel Thompson.

TYREL THOMPSON: At first, I felt like a woman should have a kid. But now, like, I just feel like it should be open to whatever they feel. And, like, everybody has their own side, but you don't know everybody's story, so...

JUHASZ: Abortion is a largely settled issue among elected officials in Louisiana. Many politicians in the state oppose abortion rights, including Democrats. Roe is dead here, but "Roe" the play lives on.

(APPLAUSE)

JUHASZ: For NPR News, I'm Aubri Juhasz in Baton Rouge. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Aubri Juhasz
Aubri Juhasz is the education reporter for New Orleans Public Radio. Before coming to New Orleans, she was a producer for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. She helped lead the show's technology and book coverage and reported her own feature stories, including the surge in cycling deaths in New York City and the decision by some states to offer competitive video gaming to high school students as an extracurricular activity.