Not So Subtle PSA: Movies in Which the Woman Doesn’t Get the Abortion

While abortion is becoming less stigmatized, sort of (see: the woman who filmed her abortion for YouTube), it remains a polarizing issue in the United States. Every faction seems to have some stake in determining whether or not it should be legal. Even Hollywood has gotten in on the hotbed political issue with its myriad films about the subject. Except that instead of taking the liberal stance you would expect, these films always show the pregnant woman in question backing out at the last minute in favor of keeping her baby.

Promotional poster for Citizen Ruth
Promotional poster for Citizen Ruth
Citizen Ruth, 1996: Director Alexander Payne chose a controversial issue for his debut feature, in which Ruth Stoops (Laura Dern) becomes the point of debate between pro-choice and pro-life activists after becoming pregnant with what would be her fifth child. After one too many arrests, Ruth is at risk of being convicted of a felony charge and is encouraged by the judge to get an abortion if she wants a less severe sentence. When others get wind of this, both sides try to bend her to their aims by offering her money. The entire thing turns into a bidding war, where Ruth eventually decides to go with the higher paying pro-abortion side. But, of course, she ends up having a miscarriage anyway.
Blue Valentine, 2010: Derek Cianfrance’s melancholic story about the unraveling of a relationship between Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean (Ryan Gosling), has the potential of abortion as the crux of one of their primary issues. Cindy meets Dean while still dating a more frat boy type named Bobby (Mike Vogel). She becomes pregnant with his child just as she is falling in love with Dean, and decides that she has to get rid of it. While in the abortion clinic as it’s about to happen, she backs out because it’s too emotional. And so, Dean helps her raise her child, which may have only served to lay the groundwork for their eventual irreversible rift.
Falling in love
Falling in love
Juno, 2007: Although, at first, Juno (Ellen Page) is all about “procuring a hasty abortion,” she, too, backs out at the clinic after a fellow classmate outside tells her that fetuses have fingernails. This wears on her conscience as she sees everyone around her scratching themselves or drumming their nails at a noise level you would expect from the beating heart beneath the floorboards in The Telltale Heart. She then decides to carry the pregnancy to term and give the child up for adoption.
Influenced by outside forces
Influenced by outside forces
For Keeps, 1988: Notable for being one of Molly Ringwald’s last remembered movies of the 80s (I watched Fresh Horses once, but I have no recollection of what actually happened in it), For Keeps is rife with the complexities that arise from making a life decision you’re not “ready for.” Darcy (Ringwald) and Stan (Randall Batinkoff) both have promising collegiate futures ahead of them as they wrap up their senior year of high school. But after spending a romantic weekend together, Darcy ends up pregnant and the two must confess to their parents–who immediately tell her to get an abortion. Reluctantly, Darcy goes to the appointment, but, to Stan’s delight, does not allow the procedure to take place. Hence, they get married and have an extremely rocky initial phase of marriage. It’s all very depressing in a sweet sort of way.
Parental intervention
Parental intervention
Short Term 12, 2013: Working as a supervisor at a group home for troubled youths, Grace (Brie Larson) has been in a relationship with one of her fellow co-workers, Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), for a few years, yet remains largely distant toward him. When she finds out she’s pregnant, her instinctive reaction is to get an abortion. She tells him that she’s carrying his child, but not about her plans to abort the baby. Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), a recent addition to the group home, is what ultimately causes Grace to admit that she was sexually abused as a child. Jayden’s own father, too, seems to mirror the experience Grace had with hers. After talking with Jayden and reporting her dad to child services, Grace feels compelled to cancel her abortion appointment.
Kirsten Dunst as a pregnant fifteen-year-old
Kirsten Dunst as a pregnant fifteen-year-old
Fifteen and Pregnant, 1998: As a Lifetime movie, one can’t really expect that the lead character, Tina (Kirsten Dunst), would actually get an abortion. Very much a cautionary tale about having sex at too early of an age, Fifteen and Pregnant doesn’t even put the potential of abortion on the list of options. Partly because her mother is Catholic, Tina’s instant decision is to have the child. But at least the line, “Your sperm doesn’t entitle you to much,” came out of the entire ordeal of watching this movie.
Anne Bancroft as Jo Armitage, an overly fertile woman who decides to get sterilized
Anne Bancroft as Jo Armitage, an overly fertile woman who decides to get sterilized
Honorary Mention: Perhaps it takes the courage of Anne Bancroft to be in a movie where the woman actually gets an abortion. 1964’s The Pumpkin Eater not only features Bancroft’s character, Jo Armitage, getting an abortion, but also adds in the plot point of her being sterilized. So maybe the trick to showing an abortion in Hollywood is that you have to be of a more “mature age.” Granted, this was a British film.

So what’s the moral of every story? Getting an abortion is still designed to make you feel like a really, really shitty person.

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