By Dave Andrusko
Back in July, we reposted a story about Jessa Crispin, a former Planned Parenthood employee, who’d written an article for the British publication The Guardian excoriating Planned Parenthood, blaming the nation’s leading abortion provider as the reason the pro-abortion movement is “in a shambles.” Her Guardian piece is very much worth a read [www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jul/13/the-pro-choice-movement-is-in-tatters-planned-parenthood-is-part-of-the-problem].
It’s not often (or, formerly, it was not often) that pro-abortion partisans would hammer PPFA, charging that “The organization is a fundraising juggernaut but women’s practical access to abortion services continues to decline.”
Why do I mention what The Guardian’s U.S. columnist wrote back on July 13? Simply because her gentle but honest deconstruction of “Unpregnant,” the latest pro-abortion “on-the-road” hijinks, comes from within the abortion movement, not from a pro-lifer. (I have not seen “Unpregnant.”)
Again, to be clear, Crispin is by no means bashing “Unpregnant”; she calls it “very charming.” What she does, however, is offer an honest assessment of the HBO Max comedy, not only as a tool to “destigmatize abortion” but also as a work of art.
And there, not to put words in Crispin’s mouth, it falls painfully short. Here are just a few of Crispin’s observations, set against the dogma that men are (at best) useless and parents are to be avoided at all costs. The first is lengthy but instructive:
Because we all know #menaretrash, Veronica chooses as the companion for her road trip a plucky but now estranged childhood friend, Bailey, and the film morphs into your typical teen comedy. Despite never quite abandoning its After School Special undertones, Unpregnant is very charming. It’s just two girls, running from the police, getting into hijinks, overcoming barriers to their friendship and their futures with zeal and sugary drinks. It hits all of the expected plot points of its genre, and the predictability of it all is very comfortable. They get into trouble, they learn something about themselves and each other, and you know at every step all will ultimately end well, and our hero will get what she wants, like the loss of virginity or admission into the college of choice, but in this case it is an abortion
Translated? “Unpregnant” is formulaic, predictable times nine.
While the actors, filmmakers, and writers often talk about wanting to present a different perspective on abortion, watched back to back, the similarities in these stories overwhelm. The men involved are either useless or menacing, the path to the clinic is strewn with burdensome obstacles, anyone pro-life is monstrously religious, and someone is almost always on hand to tell the main character (and the audience) facts and statistics about abortion, like how many women (one in four! Did you know? It’s 1 in 4 women!) will terminate a pregnancy in the course of their lives.
Not only predictable and repetitious, but “Unpregnant” traffics in the most simplistic black-and-white narrative imaginable. Emphasis on simplistic. It casts its net no further than the same demographic that similar films cling to.
One other (although I could mention many more): the “empowerment” meme.
The abortion itself is no longer something that happens after the scene cuts away, but something depicted on screen in a realistic albeit idealized manner. The health care workers are uniformly caring and warm; there is very little discomfort or pain. The woman leaves the clinic feeling empowered, often during the golden hour. This montage starts to feel like a commercial for the regional abortion clinic, indistinguishable from half of the other commercials I saw that day. I can feel empowered from having an abortion, just like I can feel empowered while eating ice cream despite not being a size two, or while taking a new prescription drug for Crohn’s disease, or while bundling my home and auto insurance.
The headline given to Crispin’s review is, “A new film tries nobly to ‘de-stigmatize’ abortion. So why does it leave me cold?” Headlines seem to fall into two categories. They either pick some point in the story the headline writer wishes to emphasize or they actually capture the core of the story. This headline accomplishes the latter.
Crispin wants to like the film more than she does. But to her credit, she tells her readers exactly why she can’t:
But in the rush to create a positive representation of a stigmatized experience, the complications get flattened and the representative will ultimately have to be respectable and noble. But somewhere, after watching the two Jesus freaks who try to kidnap Veronica and Bailey to prevent them from “killing her baby,” there is a pro-lifer who is furiously scribbling a screenplay, muttering under their breath about not “feeling seen” by Unpregnant.
Since we don’t appreciate being portrayed as “religious fanatics” who would try to kidnap a pregnant 17 year old and her friend, well, yes, you could say we wouldn’t be “feeling seen” by the movie (to put it mildly).
Having not seen this film, but others of its ilk, and after reading Crispin’s (and other reviewers’) take, “Unpregnant” is no more representative of the truth about abortion than “Mary Poppins” is of chimney sweepers.
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