Coming out of the theater following the widely acclaimed film Juno, I remember being furious. I left feeling betrayed by a so-called progressive film that depicted such backward views about women's reproductive realities. More than that, I felt sickened by the fact that I had wasted $11 on a movie that inaccurately portrayed abortion as something scary or gross and perpetuated the myth that only women bear responsibility when it comes to children. Because I knew that seeing an abortion in a negative light in a movie makes viewers less likely to support abortion access, it worried me.
Frustrated, I embarked on a mission to find media that realistically depicted these life events — but I couldn't find any. That is, until Obvious Child, perhaps the first "abortion comedy" ever successfully made. It makes all the other films that "sorta" explore pregnancy, reproductive choices and women's sexuality look like total malarkey.
With humor and wit, Obvious Child
Going through an abortion is not easy, but one of the myths about the procedure is that it is incredibly painful. The abortion scene from Blue Valentine unfortunately reinforces that idea; however, the scene in Obvious Child shows the lie behind this perception.
It goes without saying that every woman's experience and level of discomfort is different, but Slate's character Donna shows an experience much more reflective of the one most women face. She receives local anesthesia, is visibly relaxed from the meds but is clearly emotionally affected with tears in each eye. According to Planned Parenthood, for many women, the "pain is similar to menstrual cramps," while for others it can be "more uncomfortable."
The bottom line is that the common perception that abortion is somehow gruesome and physically harrowing is not the experience of the majority of women.
"The abortion experience is different for every person," Lizz Winstead, a comedian and cofounder of Lady Parts Justice told PolicyMic. "One thing I always hope for all women who choose to end a pregnancy is that they do not feel shame about it. This film gives women permission to make a choice with no apologies, and they did a brilliant job of it."
One of the biggest problems with Juno is the way the abortion clinic scene is staged. Everything from the clinic's ugly brown walls to the visibly bed-bug ridden couch to the receptionist's callous attitude are all incredibly deceptive.
In contrast, Obvious Child's clinic housed compentent staff who could offer guidance and advice. Everything from the color of the walls to the questions that the provider asked were vetted by Planned Parenthood in an effort to more accurately depict what abortion clinics feel and look like.
In a statement sent to PolicyMic, Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, noted that she was glad her organization had been so deeply involved with the film's planning process.
"For more than a year, Planned Parenthood consulted closely on the development and production of Obvious Child because after decades of watching films in which women who undergo a common and safe medical procedure find their lives ruined, we and the film’s writer/director thought it was time for a movie that reflected real women's experiences," Richards said.
When a woman comes to a guy she slept with once and says she is eight weeks pregnant, it's more than likely that the abortion option is going to be brought up at least once. Well, unless you're a character in the movie Knocked Up, that is. Like many other unplanned pregnancies in film, Knocked Up's female protagonist Alison Scott, played by Katherine Heigl,
Indeed, even when fictional characters are as young as 16 (the age of Shailene Woodley's character in the television show the Secret Life of the American Teenager), her friends and family don't treat abortion as a viable possibility.
But it's perceptions like these that inspired Gillian Robespierre, Obvious Child's director and screenwriter, to make the film in the first place.
"There was a slew of movies in 2007 which I enjoyed, but they all dealt with unplanned pregnancy with having the baby at the end. And it wasn't the story that rang true to me or people that I knew,” Robespierre told Salon recently.
Since adoption and parenting are so often the options that women choose on film, it's refreshing to see Donna examine all options available to her, including abortion.
Everybody loves babies, but why is pop culture always telling us that they are the only thing that can bring two people together? More important, why are unplanned pregnancies so often portrayed as bringing stability while the health, social, psychological and economic consequences associated with unplanned pregnancies are glossed over?
Whether unplanned pregnancies are bringing Ross and Rachel in Friends back together or resolving differences between polar opposites like Alison and Ben in Knocked Up, if you believe what Hollywood seems to be selling, unplanned pregnancies are the solution, not the problem.
But Obvious Child tells a different story. What brings the film's two main characters together in this case isn't the baby — it's actually the decision to have an abortion.
Jennifer L. Pozner, founder of Women In Media and News and author of Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV explains to PolicyMic:
"Children aren't magic. They're actually expensive and complicated monkey wrenches that top-to-bottom restructure your entire life, which can be joyful or horrible, depending on your circumstances. Thankfully, Obvious Child doesn't even nod to those tired clichés."
Although television characters are more likely to wake up from comas and be revived through CPR than humans are in real life, the opposite is true for abortions.
Although the risk of dying from an abortion is so low it's statistically 0%, almost 1 in 10 women on film end up losing their life from their abortion. It's a warped version of reality and one that makes very little sense given that abortion is a legal, low-risk and safe procedure that only takes about 5 to 20 minutes. A woman is actually more likely to die from giving birth than from an abortion.
And yet, there are examples in films like Revolutionary Road, a 2008 movie starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, where Winslet's character is killed off after she self-aborts. It's just one of many films that disproportionately associates abortion narratives with death.
Image Credit: YouTube
Even when women don't lose their lives as a result of the abortion, they are murdered or commit suicide, something that again, has no statistical basis in reality. Having an abortion will not make you more likely to die, despite what movies tell you.
Image Credit: Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health
Abortion isn't only often portrayed as being more dangerous than it is in reality, it is also often destructive for a person's relationships. Studies show that an abortion most often brings a sense of "relief" for women and that there is no link between depression and the procedure. People tend to feel sad about the unwanted pregnancy, not the abortion itself. But you rarely see that in films.
In Revolutionary Road, abortion doesn't only kill Winslet's character, it also causes conflict in her personal life. It makes sense given that the film is based in the 1960s before abortion was legal, but the problem is that we rarely see the issue in a positive light. More often than not, it seems abortion in film is treated primarily as a plot device designed to drive conflict in a woman's life.
In her statement, Richards, from Planned Parenthood, said Obvious Child should give women someone they can identify with.
"We've never really seen a character like Donna Stern in a Hollywood summer film, even though millions of women all across the country will identify with her story," she said.
Abortion may be legal in this country, but it isn't accessible. Anti-choice politicians have been coming up with every reason under the sun to shut down abortion clinics and have been legislating everything from the size of broom closets to hospital privileges to curb women's ability to get the procedure.
These political games have led to a restriction of women's reproductive choices based on their income and geography (which intersects very heavily with ethnicity). Since 87% of U.S. counties don't have an abortion provider, many women need to travel long distances to get the services and counsel they need and many can't get over that financial hurdle.
Since Obvious Child takes place in the large urban metropolis of New York City, a city with greater access to reproductive health services, Donna doesn't have trouble finding a clinic. But she still is shocked to find out that the procedure will cost her $500, which she describes as an entire month's rent. Like many other women in this country, Donna struggles to come up with enough money to cover the cost on her own.
This part is rarely discussed in romantic comedies, let alone in film. CNN contributor and Daily Beast columnist Sally Kohn moderated a panel Tuesday after the movie's special screening in Washington, D.C. Kohn told PolicyMic that while watching the movie, she couldn't help but think about the millions of women who have to travel for days just to find an abortion clinic.
"Obvious Child is laugh-out-loud funny in so many ways," Kohn said. "But what's not funny are the harsh realities of abortion access in America that the film brings to light, whether the very real challenges for many women in affording reproductive care or how very different the story would be if it took place in Texas or Oklahoma or elsewhere."
The most annoying thing about films like Juno is that they propagate the idea that pregnancy and children are solely a woman's responsibility, when in fact, the last time I checked, it takes two people to make a baby. So many movies like Raising Helen or The Switch perpetuate the myth that women can do it all alone.
News flash: They shouldn't have to.
In Obvious Child, the character Max shows up with flowers on the day of Donna's abortion. He accompanies her to to the clinic and helps her recover afterward. He holds her hands, watches a movie with her and refills her water bottle.
If that's not involvement, I'm not sure what is.