Views in brief

February 8, 2008

Abortion in the movies

I'M A huge fan of Socialist Worker and look forward to reading it online every week. I always find it to be both engaging and informative, and would like to thank the editors for continuing to provide readers which such an excellent socialist newspaper.

Today, I am writing to express some issues I have with Helen Scott's article "Why Hollywood is afraid of abortion" (February 1).

First off, it's a stretch to label Waitress and Juno as "Hollywood" films. The late Adrienne Shelley, who wrote, directed and co-starred in Waitress, enjoyed a career exclusively in independent film. Indeed, Waitress premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

Diablo Cody, who penned Juno, is certainly not a "Hollywood" screenwriter, but instead is an author and former stripper. Director Jason Reitman had never even heard of her when he received the script.

Secondly, I noticed that Scott chose not to discuss the actual positions on choice that the folks behind these films hold. Since I think the opinions of the filmmakers/actors are relevant to the question of whether these films are anti-choice, I'd like to provide some quotes from the filmmakers and actors involved with Juno and Knocked Up, respectively.

Ellen Page, who stars in Juno, told "I'm obviously completely pro-choice, and I feel like older white men with money should definitely not be able to decide what happens with a women's uterus, unless we want to go back to clothes hangers, you know what I'm saying?"

Diablo Cody, also in an interview with, stated: "You know what? Anybody can embrace the film that wants to embrace the film, but I will say on the record that it's not pro-life propaganda and it's not a political movie.

"I thought it was kind of a lefty, edgy movie that would like piss people off, because she was joking about abortion. I thought it was irreverent. I had no idea that anybody would ever perceive it as this right wing Valentine, which I'm not saying that everybody has, but I think some people have perceived it as such. It's weird to me because I'm sure Jason [Reitman] has said this, but we think as the movie as personal, not political, and I think Juno's decision to not have an abortion is very personal...

"As the person who wrote it, to me, it was fear-based, as opposed to this moral conundrum. Obviously, that's going to happen, and I've been concerned about it from the beginning. I was concerned about how that would come across."

Jason Reitman said: "I want everyone to see this movie. With Thank You for Smoking, the liberal side was there, and the conservative side was there. I'm not really pro-choice, I'm not really pro-life, I think either of those infer that I want other people to be pro-choice or pro-life. I'm libertarian, and I think people should make decisions for themselves. If you want to be pro-life, God bless you. If the pro-lifers think it's theirs and the pro-choicers think it's theirs, I think that's fantastic. I'd much rather want that."

On the subject of Knocked Up, director and writer Judd Apatow did an interview with where he stated: "Well, I think it's obviously an important aspect of the movie, will she keep the baby and the decision whether or not to keep the baby. And from the very beginning, we knew we wanted to have a moment where Seth and his idiotic stone friends debate abortion. And we actually improvised for five hours, these guys debating the issue. Some of it, you will see on the DVD. And it's very, very funny, but really shocking and disturbing. It may have killed Jerry Falwell. It may be that he knew it was out there, and he just could not handle it. But it is part of the movie, because the movie is about two people trying to decide how they are going to handle the fact that a baby is coming. And the first decision you make is, 'Am I going to keep the baby?' And part of what is interesting to me is that it's two people trying to do the right thing and keep the baby. And they are trying to decide if they ever could like each other, which is probably something most people don't do, and that's what hopefully makes it an original concept...

"I am pro-choice, and I don't think anyone should tell anyone else what to do with their bodies or their points of view. I think those decisions are very personal, and no one has the answer, so I am pretty solid in that position. But I also think it's a very interesting story when you decide not to get an abortion. And I am also kind of surprised that it's shocking to people that they don't get an abortion, because some people say, 'Wouldn't they just get an abortion?' Is it so weird that in this day and age, people are uncomfortable doing that? So everyone has their own take on it and subjective view on it."

I think these quotes suggest that Scott has taken the interpretation of these films provided by anti-choice groups such as "Operation Save America" to be definitive, instead of actually taking time to consider what the filmmakers themselves may have actually intended.

Third, and last, I'm surprised by the suggestion that it's somehow wrong to portray female characters in a film choosing not to terminate a pregnancy. I've been an enthusiastic participant in the lobbying efforts of NARAL, Planned Parenthood and NOW for years now. I'm very firmly pro-choice. However, I see my support for choice to be just that--support for choice, not simply support for abortion.

I'm left wondering if Helen Scott would be just as critical if the characters in these and other films all chose abortion. Does she feel that the portrayal of unplanned pregnancies in film must always end with the characters having abortions?
Jeffrey Jones, Loma Linda, Calif.

What faces a pregnant teenager?

THE RECENT article about how Hollywood films portray women, abortion and motherhood was excellent ("Why Hollywood is afraid of abortion," February 1).

As a social worker who has worked with young, poor and pregnant teens, I can tell you the reality of their worlds stand in stark contrast to what we see in the cinema. It's not happy, fun, sexy maternity shirts to show off baby bumps, baby showers, "babymoons" and supportive partners, families and friends who believe it takes a village to raise a child. When these girls (some as young as 14 or 15) discover they are pregnant, they're not happy at all and try to hide it for as long as possible.

They're afraid to tell their parents because the all-too-common response is violence: slapping, pushing, verbal abuse ("whore" and "slut" are very popular). Many pregnant teens get thrown out of the house. The fathers, or "babydaddies" as they are called, are nowhere to be found. These young women suffer from anxiety and depression.

I always ask them if they had considered an abortion. With the exception of one or two (who didn't go through with it), the majority always said no, because they believed abortion was "killing a child."

In these individual conversations, I learned just how much ideological ground the women's liberation movement has lost to the anti-woman, anti-abortion fanatics in this country. These pregnant teens had never heard the idea that their body belongs to them, and without that control and the right to terminate a pregnancy, they are not free and cannot be the equals of men.
Helen Redmond, Chicago

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