Without specifically intending to do so, I finished the non-abortion film trilogy this past weekend. What’s that? It’s the trilogy of movies from the past year in which the female lead character gets pregnant, clearly is in a situation in which many, if not most, women would get an abortion, but doesn’t. First came Waitress, then Knocked Up, then the Academy-Award nominated Juno. I call them non-abortion rather than anti-abortion because their messages are not at all anti-abortion (although Juno is the closest, see below), but rather the characters just don’t get one and then the movie moves on to dealing with the pregnancy. And, as those stories go, all three are enjoyable.
But what’s going on that we have this story line recurring so frequently? I’m certainly not the first to note it, and it’s been the case on prime time television as well, but it’s troubling that the most common medical procedure for women (over 1.2 million per year) gets pushed aside in situations that clearly call for, at the very least, very serious consideration of it. In Waitress, the main character is in a terribly abusive marriage and, as a result, is trying to get out on her own but has very little money. In Knocked Up, the main character gets pregnant after a one-night stand with a cartoonish buffoon of a man and the pregnancy threatens her developing career. In Juno, the main character is a savvy sixteen year old with no intention of keeping the child. I don’t have empirical data, but I think many, if not most, women in those situations would opt to have a safe, legal abortion. And it’s not like the movies made the completely appropriate point that the procedure is difficult to obtain because of the increasing number of legal roadblocks and decreasing number of providers.
What’s the answer? With abortion numbers at a thirty year low, the movies could just be a reflection of the fact that fewer women are getting abortions. But, I doubt that. It’s probably a combination of fear over the political ramifications of showing abortion in a mainstream American movie and the fact that getting an abortion would not allow for the same story development throughout the pregnancy.
Paradoxically, as a movie, I enjoyed Juno the most even though it was the movie that was the most repulsive politically. The title character actually goes to an abortion clinic but is dissuaded from having the abortion because of the comments of a protester outside the clinic. Given the movie’s nominations this morning, I have no doubt that this scene will be a rallying cry for anti-abortion activists nationwide. I can hear them outside clinics now: “Do what Juno did! Turn back and let someone adopt your baby!”
Thank you Hollywood.
– David S. Cohen