Author Ian McEwan on why Roe V. Wade could move from settled law to a contested case


Ian McEwan isn't afraid of the dark. In his 40-year career, the English author and screenwriter behind "Atonement,","The Comfort of Strangers,” "On Chesil Beach" and several more of the modern era's most indelible and haunting works has consistently explored the boundaries of love, sex, religion, death, law and morality. His latest offering, the film adaption of "The Children Act," is no different. McEwan joined SalonTV’s Mary Elizabeth Williams on “Salon Talks” to unpack why he’s drawn to complicated human stories that grapple with what’s legal and what’s moral.

Inspired by real events, “The Children Act” stars Stanley Tucci and Emma Thompson as Fiona Maye, a London judge tasked with deciding the fate of a 17-year-old Jehovah's Witness with leukemia whose family is fighting for his right to refuse treatment.

The family courts, McEwan told Salon, are often "trying to insert some kind of rationality into situations that are often terrifying." It's a theme that has pervaded McEwan's entire body of work, the often deeply conflicted relationship between individual rights and the will of the state and between the heart and the head.

"The difficulties arise when religious convictions get pushed upon those who have none, or when secular principals are forced onto those with a sure sense of what is right guided by God,” McEwan said on “Salon Talks.” “There is no way around that. You can regard them as two goods that cannot be reconciled." And he added, "As your Supreme Court changes, and you begin to wonder whether (Roe V. Wade)[ https://www.salon.com/2018/07/02/roe-v-wade-is-likely-dead-what-can-states-do-to-protect-women/] is up for grabs, you will have this discussion nonstop. It might move from being settled law to contested law."

And when it comes to the storytelling around these ethical issues, McEwan believes that our dramas are timeless. "One of the reasons we love our literature and movies is that basically human issues don't change," he said. "Is my wife or husband honest? Do I trust this person? That's why we can read Homeric fables — they have a little marital spat, we're looking back 2,700 years and we identify with this problem."

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