by Trisha Kretzer
The romantic comedy revolution of the year is Obvious Child. Brainchild of director Gillian Robespierre and comedian Jenny Slate, the film centers around Donna (played by Slate), a mid-twenties girl living in Brooklyn still figuring herself out. After being dumped and finding out the independent book store she works for is going out of business, Dona’s only solace is found in her boozed, all-too-personal, but completely relatable stand up comedy. After a few too many drinks that led to a one night stand, Donna learns she is pregnant. Through Donna’s continuous on-stage fart jokes and implied financial reliance on her parents, she makes it apparent she is not ready for a child. What makes Obvious Child unique is the choice not to tell a story of a girl’s journey into both womanhood and motherhood simultaneously. Instead, a plot that follows Donna’s choice to have an abortion.
Obvious Child is quite possibly the pro-choice dream come true. The film provides Donna’s character with a strong support group (including two other women who have had abortions), never questions her choice, and ultimately humanizes the decision that 3 in 10 women will make before the age of 45. Not only are Robespierre and Slate challenging their audiences to experience a choice both cinema repudiates and women across the country feel ashamed to share, they want viewers to openly laugh and become comfortable with discussing abortion . However, a scene of Donna’s stand-up jokes, all centered around abortion, yield reactions ranging from completely offended to awkward and apprehensive chuckles. This begs the question, is ending the stigma surrounding abortion discussion in the realm of Americans’ wants and capabilities?
The omnipresent sigma encircling abortion stems from different aspects of American culture. Legal restrictions—including waiting periods and parental consent laws—exist to make women question the righteousness of their decision. Women choosing to have an abortion are making a statement that takes ownership of both their sexuality and reproductive rights. This challenges the societal gender roles that disregard women wanting sex for any purpose other than reproduction. Public perception of the procedure being unsafe, due to the infection and death rates of abortion pre-Roe v. Wade, still make women afraid to discuss their procedure due to a fear of being seen as unclean. Most commonly, the attribution of personhood to a fetus makes women fear they will be shamed or socially incriminated if they speak about their abortion.
These causes of stigma, as well as beliefs held by a woman’s family, friends, partner, or religion, result in a major choice, procedure and emotional process in which a woman could easily feel no support. As a result, women often feel regret, guilt, isolation, and turn to self-deprecation. The implicit goal of “Obvious Child” is to start a conversation about abortion that allows women to be comfortable and confident in their reproductive decisions. The question remains however, if Americans are able or willing to discuss abortion as a safe and viable choice for women to make about their pregnancy.
Cinema has jumped aboard the hookup culture and unexpected pregnancy plotlines, but seldom presents the story of the women who choose abortion. Take for example, the movie Juno, which follows the story of a teenage girl who unexpectedly gets pregnant. Juno considers abortion, but after being spoken to by a protester outside her clinic, decides to give the child up for adoption instead. The film was wildly successful, nabbing an Oscar win as well as many other nominations. This success and praise likely would not occur had Juno kept with her decision to abort.
Feelings toward abortion are entirely too polarized for open discussion to occur. Even in debate, activists have coined the name “pro-choice”, rather than pro-abortion. The procedure is both personal and political, a paradox that makes conversation about it uncomfortable and often confrontational. In theory, abortion stigma would have alleviated over the 41 years since it has been legalized, however laws and amendments are constantly being made to qualify this right. As recent as last month, the Supreme Court decided to strike down the law that required a 35 foot buffer zone around abortion clinics. This law was found unconstitutional as it prevented protesters from employing their freedom of speech, wanting to have polite conversations with women entering the clinic instead of picketing behind a line.
So it seems abortion is being discussed in America, but not in a way that welcomes women to talk about their choices and experiences. Rather, the discussion being had is strictly opinionated, debating the procedure while shunning openly speaking of the realities of it. Political attitudes aside, real women are suffering from the stigma they face from society. The conversation Obvious Child is creating is one of realizing abortion is a real life decision and experience millions of women are going through, that the media and Americans need to stop turning into a political debate, and start recognizing as a topic of importance.