It’s time to talk about abortion. And as a straight white male, I feel the most qualified.
I’m pro-choice, so if you already know nothing’s gonna change your mind, better skip this article. It would be a waste of your time.
My base line is that I have no right to make decisions about procedures I know nothing about and can never experience. Men may have a say, but women need to design the rules. Men don’t get more than that until something makes them obliged to share the consequences of a baby.
I’m in favor of giving women choices, but for some reason people think “pro-choice” equates to “pro-death”. Pro-choice means don’t make a blanket ruling for all women everywhere. It means each woman gets to make that choice for themselves. It means they make that call. If the government or conservative Christians want to influence that decision, they’ll have to go up to each woman individually. Having the right to choose is different than actually making that choice, but that’s not how they paint it. They make it sound like every pregnant woman is going to get one.
Even though legal abortion has always been favored by Americans, the government — state, federal, local, whatever — has been pretending that they don’t. States make laws that, while still legal, make it nearly impossible to get one. They do anything they can to paint Planned Parenthood as a dead baby factory. Pass laws that require physical exams or waiting periods (read: chances to talk you out of it) or a hard cut-off date that’s so close to when pregnancy can be first detected it gives almost no opportunity. I don’t get why. What money is in it for them (besides lobbyists, but they can’t be contributing that much, can they?)
First of all, it’s unfortunate that the term we have to use is “abortion”. That’s such a ugly sounding word. a BOOR SHUN. That B is what really makes it misophonic. Some doctors use “termination”, but that’s not better. Makes you think of The Terminator. You may be laughing but words are influential, as I’ve mentioned before. I believe it’s the reason Blu-Ray conquered HD-DVD. They’ve done studies that show men and women react to neutrally-spoken out-of-context words. And it’s the reason we say “faucet” and not “spigot”. I’m not saying everything’s solved if, instead of “abortion” we say “fleebydeeby”, but much of the debate is bounded in rationalism vs. emotionalism.
And I’m not discounting emotionalism. It is a valid method of reasoning and criticism. Something doesn’t feel right. You don’t know why, but it feels wrong to put this knife into that guy. I probably shouldn’t do it. Lindsay Ellis put it better in her recent “Q & A”.
At the end of the day your feelings are your feelings. Feelings are not rational. You can rationalize them by having supporting evidence. But at the end of the day, if you have a criticism, it’s probably because you had an emotional reaction. Finding words and supporting evidence and being able to articulate why you feel that emotional reaction is the best you can do. And I think the worst people can do is have an emotional reaction and not really explore it and not really put words to it, not really articulate why they feel the way they feel. Either that or just delude themselves, which is also really popular these days.
The problem is that people don’t understand what motivates them, why they are feeling the way they feel. That’s why emotionalist arguments seem empty — the evidence to prove or persuade is purely personal (I did not mean to put so many p‘s in there). So the provocateurs end up yelling and screaming, balling their fists like babies, and blaming and shaming.
But what emotionalism does have is art and this leads to my thesis. Even though the majority of people are in favor of abortion, mainstream media ducks the issue completely. By skirting or avoiding confrontation with the issue (so they can make all audiences happy), one side gets more exposure than the other.
This trope is called Good Girls Avoid Abortion. If a story brings up the issue, it’s always with a negative connotation. It’s always the worse of two bad choices. It overshadows any other plot, becoming the theme, which is oversimplified into “quick and easy” versus “long and difficult… but rewarding?” And since so many stories are about “doing what’s right vs. doing what’s easy” (Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, etc.) it gives unfair advantage.
It’s the bad girls (read: sluts) who get them and the douchebags who suggest them. Although, really, it’s the writers standing on both sides of the fence. Having the break room cake and eating it too. And adoption, though probably the best choice, is rarely invoked because viewers always expect it as a future plot twist, like Morgan Le Fay coming back to kill King Arthur. Of course, the writers aren’t the one who has to carry the baby to term. They’re not risking the health of the older woman or raising it at nineteen with no money. Why don’t you go be homeless and live with your kid in a women’s shelter?
In movies, if the issue comes up, that’s all the plot is about. There’s never a side character or side story about it. Except in the case of Dirty Dancing, but it’s still for the benefit of the main characters. A background dancer (one of the dirtier ones, I wager) has one in her home where the conductor takes her money, performs poorly, then leaves. That requires Baby to fetch her father (a doctor) for help. It’s a whole big turning point where bonds of trust are forged and hearts are warmed. Baby shows that she’s not just a condescending aristocrat, and so on and on.
But it portrays abortion as this scary back alley thing where some guy will shove a knitting needle up your ass. Which it was, back in this time, pre-Roe vs. Wade. But for a lot of women, this is their first exposure to the potential reality of getting an abortion. And it’s quite negative.
Then there’s the big ones like Juno and Knocked up. At first, titular Juno thinks she’s just going to “nip that thing in the bud” as she says, not doing any favors to imagery. But on the way, she has one pitiful protestor to ignore until she mentions the baby has fingernails. Of course, being so quirky and twee, that’s what makes her turn around. Not the heartbeat or anything like that. The best part is fetuses don’t have fingernails at that age of development, so the whole plot is based on misinformation, like Lucy.
Thankfully, Juno opts to put the baby up for adoption. But it’s open adoption — meaning she gets to choose the parents and throw out certain decisions as if she’s going to be the parent. As if she’s going to be the one getting up at 3 o’clock in the morning when it’s crying. Most of the story is about her relationship with the adoptive parents and the conflict it creates. But at least, in the end, no one changes their mind at the last minute. My problem is that the abortion thing had to be in there at all. It doesn’t affect the plot, and it’s still treated as the worst choice.
Knocked Up is even worse. Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl have a drunken one-night-stand. He “almost” uses a condom, but she says something about hurrying up that he misinterprets and now we get a movie poster with nothing but Seth Rogen’s stupid face.
Why why why would you ever keep a baby created from that kind of situation. This man has no job, no money, no ambitions beyond getting stoned and possibly being interested in thinking about making a website with clips of celebrity nudity. Meanwhile Heigl has a career she cares about and is trying to build up. She has nothing religious holding her back and no reason to think she couldn’t have a family in the future. The only people who suggest abortion are the assholes. Almost the exact same thing happens in Look Who’s Talking. (Although I don’t know how old Kirstie Alley is supposed to be in that. 22? 32? 42? She looks as old as my Mom. But the guy she’s fucking looks like a grandpa.)
It gets worse in science fiction. It’s not so much the wrong time or few resources (in the future, they just stick babies in one of those Buy n’ Large daycares where robots look after them). But where the big problem is risk to the mother’s health, they still refuse to terminate the pregnancy. She’s going to have that baby or die trying. In The Fly, Geena Davis has sex with post-accident pre-brundlefly Jeff Goldblum. Even after she knows her baby won’t be human, she still wants to carry it to term (thus, we get The Fly II, where she dies in childbirth. Good call.)
There’s an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where there’s an alien species who wants to know what humans are. And I guess way to learn it is to do it. So it impregnates the sexy one with itself. Of course, the crew doesn’t know this, they think she just became spontaneously pregnant. Worse yet, the fetus is gestating wildly fast. Fast enough it could kill her. I mean, like, nine months in a few days. So total alien, totally unwanted, and totally threatening. But NOPE, gonna keep it. This is Star Trek — the galaxy’s all about ethics and morality and human futurism.
In Twilight, Bella is vomiting blood and suffering a broken spine. Just gestating is actively . Labor might kill her and the baby in the process. And she STILL won’t consider termination. Better to die a noble warrior’s death than have that sinful abortion. What else would you expect from a Mormon.
TV shows always have at least one episode where a main character faces a surprise pregnancy (either real or false). More times than not, they keep it. It’s just too much of a gimme for writers. A pregnancy gives you nine months to write jokes about swelling feet or food cravings. Then it provides a natural climax for the season finale. And if it’s enough to pull you out of the ratings slump that provoked this plot in the first place, you’ve got all those baby hijinx situations for next season. You’d be a fool not to snatch that low-hanging fruit, no matter how undesired or consequential the pregnancy would be for the woman. Half the time it’s because the actress got pregnant in real life, so why not take that flag and raise it?
Teen soaps are prime breeding ground (pardon the pun) for this. In Switched at Birth, we have Lily who has an unwanted pregnancy. She just broke up with the father. They are both 21. He is unemployed and she’s working at Krispy Kreme or some place. And an amniocentisis shows the fetus will have Downs’ Syndrome. Everyone tells her she should end the pregnancy… except for one person. And that’s the person who changes her mind. Of course, you’d figure this is the conclusion they come up with, given this is a family drama on the Freeform used-to-be-The-Family-Channel network.
But I’m from a previous generation, so I don’t know much about these new-fangled shows. Still, the trope was plenty present in my time. In Beverly Hills 90210, the quintessential teen drama, Andrea, a.k.a. the one with the glasses (so you know she’s a good girl) gets the treatment. Her whole deal is that she’s just started dating the father, she’s eighteen, she’s a freshman in college. She doesn’t want a baby. She’s not in any ideal situation for a family and since she has glasses, she’s rational, so she decides to get an abortion. But she gets the “change mind at last second” twist because we can’t have Andrea be bad.
Meanwhile, in Party of Five, a sister melodrama on Fox, Neve Campbell’s character got the “one-and-done” episode where a convenient miscarriage lets her avoid a decision. God decided just to “nip that in the bud there”. The aforementioned BH90210 had the same thing happen to Kelly.
Now onto sitcoms. Oh, sure, we can occasionally bring up this “dark” subject in a comedy, but very rarely. Wouldn’t want to stopper the laughs from “Malcolm in the Middle”. This is a case of “actress got pregnant so we have to write it in somehow”. And ignores that A) this woman has to be at least in her late 40’s B) they are slightly above the poverty line, mostly because C) they already have four boys — one had to be sent to military school and the three others are headed the same way. I mean in the “set the house on fire, can’t be left alone” sense. Like real life first-season Bart Simpsons. But nope, the family never considers it, even though it’s clearly a valid* option.
*Note, I’m not saying the “right” option. In these cases, there is no such thing as a right or wrong decision, just what appears to be best at the time, which is a matter of rationalism vs. emotionalism. More on that later.
Similar events happen in Roseanne, Frasier, and Friends. All unmarried women. All in mid-life. All with excellent careers. All with fathers unwilling to be a parent. Roseanne’s the only one “edgy” enough to have some character development attached to it. But in the end, the baby is kept, despite the consequences.
And Murphy Brown started it all. I guess you have to be really old to remember, but there was a hyped controversy thanks to Dan Quayle. Remember Dan Quayle? Remember when he was the only elected official we had to worry about? Those were the days. God, I’d suck someone’s dick to have Dan Quayle back.
Anyway, he made a big stink when he cited Murphy Brown as the cause or result of the degradation of family values (I’m not sure which he was siding with) what with them unmarried womens raising a child without the man-beast. Candice Bergen, to her credit, didn’t stay silent. She wrote the single-ness and baby-ness into the next episode with vigor and gusto (which sounds like a pasta dish) motif-ing that families come in all shapes and sizes — no one has better or worse “values”.
These are all shows you know. They all have abortion brought up. No one is ready to have a child. But none of them choose that choice. There’s plenty more egregious examples on the trope page. I had no idea anime had so many. No matter where you think “life begins”, no one can argue with “don’t do anything and you can’t be wrong”.
But my point is, the exhibition is one-sided. It’s not that these plots exist, it’s “where are the other sides”? Where are the women who choose abortion? Why not show their journey? It’s not like there isn’t plenty of conflict to exploit. Why not show the problems with finding a clinic? Or navigating the onslaught of protestors and harassers? The expense?
The only place I’ve seen it ever was in G.L.O.W. (on Netflix), which doesn’t treat it as a plot point, not a character moment, not as a mistake. It’s just an event and no one speaks of it ever. It seems like they show it just to show it. But sometimes, that’s how it is in the real world — no pathos or circumstance.
You ever watch politicians? They either declare themselves “pro-life” or don’t bring it up at all. Being pro-choice makes more rational sense, but it feels like the arguments fall on deaf ears becaue the opposition will only hear of sanctity and morals. Justification rooted in faith and belief rather than proof. But they keep being crazy about it, citing facts that aren’t true and using “shock and awe” tactics.
When you’re thinking about any moral issue, you have to ask your five questions:
1) Will it do harm or provide care? (This isn’t an “either/or” but an overall. You have to cut someone open to get that cancerous tumor out.)
2) Will it be fair to all involved? Or at least be reciprocal? (Meaning is it square for all sides. Or “does the punishment fit the crime”?)
3) Does it maintain loyalty?
4) Does it respect authority and/or tradition?
5) Does it violate what is sacred? Is it abhorrent? (by this, we mean “disliked because of immorality”)
So you see both pro-choice and pro-life have a grip. It’s 1 & 2 versus 4 & 5. (3 doesn’t seem to apply to either side.) Any of them could be correct. There is no such thing as “wrong” on this topic. Abortion provides care, but it feels wrong. And sanctity & tradition, while valid, have also been used to justify segregation, anti-semitism, and white nationalism. People who argue for values are the same ones who turn out to be Roy Moore or Anthony Weiner or Denver “Bigfoot Erotica” Riggleman
Okay, that’s fair. But you should declare an “appeal to emotion” for the other side.
Thank you. And keep this in mind: An argument is when you are trying to determine WHO is right. A conversation is when you are trying to determine WHAT is right.
This blog was inspired by this article.