Depictions of abortion in movies and TV series often get it wrong. When they are not portraying abortion unrealistically or sensationally, on-screen portrayals also often lack sufficient narrative complexity, thereby reducing an otherwise complex issue to a number of predictable banalities.
In Hollywood, for example, there has been a notable tendency to exaggerate the medical risks associated with abortion and not enough portrayals of the hurdles that are often in the way of those who want to procure abortions.
However, when done right, movies and TV series can be an excellent platform from which to address various aspects of abortion. And while one would be hard-pressed to find many movies and TV series that deal with abortion in a nuanced manner, the ones listed below make a good attempt to tackle the subject in intriguing and thought-provoking ways.
In addition to offering good old entertainment value, these four movies and TV series succeed in humanizing not just abortion, but also the people who experience it. These on-screen depictions all offer a fresh take on the subject while trying to depict it realistically.
Saint Frances (2019)
What does life after abortion look like? This is just one of the many questions that Saint Frances tries to answer. Running for 1 hour 49 minutes, this movie depicts the life of a 34-year-old woman who tries to go about her life after having an abortion.
Saint Frances is especially empowering because it intentionally emphasizes the nontraumatic aspects of abortion. While the movie does not sidestep the fact that there can be emotional and physical aftereffects of abortion, it does not treat termination as a particularly shocking event. Instead, viewers meet a woman who has no doubts whatsoever about the decision to terminate her pregnancy. She has an abortion and moves on with her life, therefore cementing the fact that abortion is an ordinary human experience. And while there is nothing necessarily funny about abortion, this movie is hilarious. In this way, it offers viewers much-needed comic relief as they follow the exploits of a young woman who tries to get her life together while opening herself up to the new experiences that her world offers. Not only is Saint Frances educative and intriguing, it is a movie that is enough to keep one thoroughly entertained.
Contrary to what the title of this popular American TV series suggests, teenage life is not always euphoric. Sometimes teenagers find themselves having to make important decisions about their lives, even as they go about the often murky business of discovering themselves. And in Episode 8 of the first season of Euphoria, Cassie Howard – a high school junior dating a slightly older boy –- has to decide whether or not to terminate a pregnancy.
The portrayal of Cassie’s predicament is empowering because it demonstrates that, even after having a discussion regarding the pregnancy with her boyfriend, the decision is ultimately hers to make. Additionally, when Cassie finally makes a decision to terminate the pregnancy, she understands that she does not have to go through the process alone. She asks her sister and mother to accompany her to the abortion clinic.
Having an abortion is not a decision that Cassie takes lightly; however, its depiction in Euphoria offers a fresh take on the way abortion is usually addressed. As opposed to making it the sole defining event of her life, abortion is shown to be one of the things that she has to deal with and not her be-all and end-all. At the end of the day, she is still Cassie and having an abortion does not take that away from her.
The best thing about road-drama movies is that they allow us to travel without having to take one step outside our doors. In Unpregnant, viewers get to hit the road with two teenage girls as one of them sets out to have an abortion in a state that permits the practice.
While this coming-of-age movie is primarily about abortion, it is also about much more than that, which is perhaps why it makes for such an engrossing viewing experience. When viewers see 17-year-old Veronica take charge of her life, they learn something about the absolute necessity of taking control over one’s body and destiny. When they see Veronica’s childhood friend tagging along on the trip, they see what it means for one to rely on networks of care when making important decisions. And when the two friends inevitably encounter obstacles on the way because of their lack of money, age, and gender, viewers see up close the ingenuity that women – whether young or old – often have to show when attempting to define the course of their lives.
Obvious Child (2014)
It seems fitting that a movie about a stand-up comedian would be wickedly funny. In 1 hour and 24 minutes, Obvious Child tells the story of a woman who has a one-night stand and falls pregnant. When she tries to schedule an abortion, she learns that the only available date is February 14th, which is Valentine’s Day. What then follows in the course of this hilarious romantic comedy is an endearing and honest portrayal of abortion.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Obvious Child is what should be obvious by now: it is entirely possible for a woman to procure an abortion and then go on to lead a normal, even happy, life. This movie also shows that other decisions usually accompany the decision to have an abortion. For example: To what extent should one’s sexual partner be involved in the decision to have an abortion? Should one confide in friends and seek their support?
One of the most empowering aspects of this movie is the fact that it shuns the tragic abortion narrative. In other words, the movie poses a question: Can a movie about a woman getting an abortion have a happy ending? By the time a viewer gets to the end of Obvious Child, there can only be one answer: obviously!
(1) In 2020, TV and film still couldn’t get abortion right.” The Conversation, theconversation.com/in-2020-tv-and-film-still-couldnt-get-abortion-right-152223. Accessed February 2021.
(2) “No More Shmashmortion.” Slate, slate.com/human-interest/2014/06/obvious-child-finally-an-honest-abortion-movie.html. Accessed February 2021.
(3) “Movie Review: Unpregnant and Other Movies About Reproductive Freedom.” Times Leader, www.timesleader.com/wire/coronavirus-wire/800983/movie-review-unpregnant-and-other-films-about-reproductive-freedom. Accessed February 2021.