The new romantic comedy “Obvious Child” has managed to do something pretty extraordinary — it’s made abortion sympathetic, and funny.
In it, main character Donna has an abortion after a drunken one-night stand. But unlike most other characters who grapple with this question, Donna doesn’t torture herself. She makes the decision without angst, guilt, or extenuating circumstances. And like millions of American women, Donna follows through, then moves on with her life.
A movie about an experience this common – nearly one in three American women will have an abortion in their lifetime — shouldn’t feel so revolutionary. But it does.
Our culture still stigmatizes abortions and the women who have them. When President Obama issued a statement of support on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, he didn’t use the word abortion once. Think about that — in a statement supporting the decision that recognizes the constitutional protection to abortion, abortion wasn’t mentioned.
Even within the reproductive rights movement, we have a million ways to signal abortion without saying it. We talk about “personal, private decision making,” “women’s health” or “reproductive health care.”
Even I, who have devoted my life to defending reproductive rights, have friends who want an abortion but won’t admit it to me. Instead they’ll call and tell me their “friend” needs help. That speaks to a frightening level of shame.
Here’s the truth: We all know – and probably love – a woman who’s had an abortion. Indeed, we likely know several women, and love them. We just don’t know it.
Here’s another truth: Even if we don’t agree about abortion, we can agree that we shouldn’t judge a woman unless we’ve walked in her shoes. Life, after all, is messy. And decisions aren’t always black and white.
Abortion stigma causes real harm. Even the simple silence around abortion hurts women. It makes women afraid to talk about their experiences, even with trusted friends and loved ones. It encourages politicians to chip away at women’s ability to make this decision for themselves – and then say they’re doing it for our own good. Stigma, and the silence it nurtures, enables a culture that tells doctors and nurses they can refuse to treat a woman who seeks an abortion because she is untouchable — declining even to take her blood pressure or provide her with pain medication, lest they be tainted by association.
That’s why the “Obvious Child” is so welcome. It deftly reflects the experience of millions of women across the country – that we sometimes get pregnant when we didn’t want to and decide to have an abortion because it’s the right decision for our lives.