With the continued restriction of reproductive rights in the United States, films about abortion have become increasingly common. Even when the impending nullification of Roe v. Wade was still just a distant nightmare, state laws restricting access to safe abortion were already inspirational films such as Eliza Hitmanit is Never Rarely Sometimes Always and Rachel Lee Goldenbergit is Pregnant. The two films take different approaches to the same basic story: two teenage girls hit the road seeking medical help in another state after one of them becomes pregnant. The two form a fortuitous trilogy with Nathalie Morales‘ Plan B, in which two high school students are looking for a pharmacy that will sell them emergency contraceptives. But pregnancy-driven road trips aren’t the only thing fueling the current wave of reproductive rights films.
Released on Sundance just months before recent news regarding Roe v. Wade, Tia Lessin‘sand Emma Pildes‘ documentary The Janes tells the story of a network of women who performed safe, affordable, and highly illegal abortions in early 1970s Chicago. If we take a little time travel, we quickly notice a trend around films that approach abortion from a pro-choice perspective. Generally, they tend to focus on the difficulties that cis women and pregnant women in general have to go through when their reproductive rights are not respected, whether before or after the legalization of abortion. Mike LeighOscar-nominated drama Vera Drake stars Imelda Staunton as a woman who offered free abortions to her neighbors in 1950s Britain; 80s classic dirty dance whether a clandestine abortion went wrong as a central part of his plot; and critically acclaimed Romanian film 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days follows two women going through hell to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. No matter which way you look, stories of trials and tribulations regarding abortion aren’t hard to find.
On the other hand, portrayals of abortion as part of life don’t get much attention in the film world. In this scenario, look Gillian Robespierre2014 romantic comedy Obvious child like taking a breath of fresh air. A charming tale of an abortion that went well, the film is also an essential part of a truly mature conversation about reproductive rights.
Inspired by a short film of the same name also directed by Robespierre, Obvious child stars Jenny Slate as New York comedian Donna Stern, who, after a particularly terrible breakup, has a one-night stand with a man she meets at a bar. Some time after the meeting, Donna discovers that she is pregnant and decides to have an abortion. Due to the lack of available dates in the local Planned Parenthood calendar, she is forced to schedule the procedure on Valentine’s Day. As if that weren’t enough, Max (Jacques Lacy), aka the guy from the bar, returns to his life in search of something more. Clearly attracted to Max, but frightened by his reaction to the abortion, Donna is caught between pushing him away for good or telling him the truth and hoping for the best. Since the film is a romantic comedy, you can already guess how things go: despite his initial confusion, Max shows up on the day of the abortion to offer his support, and what was to be Donna’s worst Valentine’s Day happens. turns into an incredibly sweet, if strange, date.
In an interview with The New York Times, Robespierre said she decided to do Obvious child as a sort of response to films in which the abortion plot was nothing more than a red herring, eventually giving way to a turnaround and an uplifting birth. movies like Juno, knocked upand Waitress rubbed it the wrong way due to their “misrepresentation of women on screen when it comes to unplanned pregnancies”. It’s safe to say that Robespierre managed to present audiences with a much more realistic view of unplanned pregnancies than the movies that bothered them so much. Unexpectedly, she also managed to create an image that serves as an important companion to all of the aforementioned examples from the film’s abortion canon.
Everyone knows the risks associated with unsafe abortions. Even the anti-choice crowd is well aware of this. In fact, anti-abortion campaigns frequently overturn the horrors of clandestine abortions, turning the physical and emotional trauma resulting from botched surgeries and counterfeit drugs, as well as the difficulty in finding reliable doctors, into arguments as to why the abortion should be made illegal in all cases. The pain that comes from the lack of access to proper medical care and the absence of an open and honest conversation about the subject becomes an unchanging reality. In this sense, the overwhelming presence of negative portrayals of abortion, even in the interests of raising awareness, can sometimes do as much harm as good.
However, positive portrayals of abortion are not easy to find. In 2011, the long-running ABC drama Grey’s Anatomy caused a stir in the television world when one of its characters, Dr. Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh), chose to have an abortion simply because she didn’t want to be a mother. Usually, TV characters are only allowed to have an abortion if there are socio-economic or health factors that impede childbearing. When it comes to movies, things aren’t that different. As Roberspierre pointed out, films about unplanned pregnancies tend to avoid the Planned Parenthood clinic – unless, of course, the story revolves around the difficulty of getting an abortion.
It’s here that Obvious child stands out from the crowd. It’s not that the film doesn’t condemn its protagonist for having an abortion, or that it allows her to feel vulnerable and hurt without degenerating into a guilt trip. None of the films mentioned in this article shame their characters for having had an abortion. Which makes Obvious child so important is that it’s a romantic comedy where the main character gets pregnant very early on but doesn’t want to have a child at that point in her life and that’s this. She gets the procedure, the guy, and a speedy recovery. Credits. There are no sleazy men blackmailing her into giving them money or sex, no bleeding, no closed clinics, no trauma. It’s fine, because that’s what happens when abortions are legal and safe. By making such a mundane film about a woman terminating a pregnancy in a place where the law is not against her, Robespierre shows us that having an abortion doesn’t have to be the terrifying experience conservatives claim it to be. It shows us a world beyond criminalization that we must keep in mind when we strive to win or preserve our rights.
According to the global human rights organization Center for Reproductive Rights, since 2011, nearly 500 laws restricting access to abortion have been passed in US states. These laws range from requiring parental consent for teenage girls wishing to terminate a pregnancy, to requiring patients to examine fetal ultrasounds before undergoing the procedure, to simply reducing funds for abortion services. Even with Roe v. Wade still alive, the situation in the United States is dire for cis women, trans men, and many non-binary people. Globally, things get even gloomier: the World Health Organization estimates that there are 73 million induced abortions worldwide each year, 45% of which are performed in unsafe circumstances by untrained staff. Ninety-seven percent of these unsafe abortions take place in developing countries. Looking at the numbers, it’s easy to see the need for images like 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days, Never Rarely Sometimes Alwaysand The Janes. We need greater awareness to drive change forward.
But, as media enthusiasts of all kinds have learned over the past few decades, representation matters. More than just staring into the abyss, we need to know what life is like for those in need. Simply put, to allay the doubts and insecurities about abortion, we need to demystify it, to understand that with the proper medical care and legal support, it can be a procedure as simple as dental surgery. And, to take that step, we need more stories about abortion that don’t involve fear, regret, hardship and trauma – stories about everyday people, like Donna Stern, living their lives to the fullest. life, now without pregnancy.
Director Gillian Robespierre Talks OBVIOUS CHILD, Adapting Her Own Short, Working With Jenny Slate, And More
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