From Unpregnant to Obvious Child, ‘Abortion Comedies’ Are Here to Stay

Jenny Singer
·5 mins read

There’s a moment in Unpregnant, a buddy comedy movie about abortion now streaming on HBO Max, that is so magical, so dead on in its rendering of the fearful joy of being alive that it will stay with you far longer than any headline spelling the doom of legal abortion.

Two teenage girls—played by Barbie Ferreira and Haley Lu Richardson—are hundreds of miles from home, literally upside down on a whirling fairground ride on a spring night in Texas, shouting truths to each other.

“THE FIRST TIME I MASTURBATED,” screams Bailey (Ferreira) over the roar of the fairgoers. “WAS TO EMMA WATSON. IN DEATHLY HALLOWS.”

Veronica (Richardson) stares at her friend through wind-whipped hair. “PART ONE OR PART TWO?” she shouts back.

The ride forces them back in their seats as they barrel forward. “I’M PREGNANT AND I’M GETTING AN ABORTION!” Veronica yells into the wind, her sense of freedom billowing across the dark sky like fireworks.

“If America laughs at this, America is beyond redemption,” Media Research Center, a right-wing watchdog group, wrote in an article called “Here Comes the ‘Abortion Comedy.’” They were referring to the 2014 romantic comedy Obvious Child, in which a woman seeks an abortion after having a one-night stand with a man who has the unfortunate nickname Pee-farter.

But the article could just as well have been about Unpregnant. Or about the 2015 comedy Grandma, which, like Unpregnant, features two very different women (played by Lily Tomlin and Julia Garner) who take a road trip that ends with an abortion. Or the impossibly good 2019 indie movie Saint Frances, in which a 34-year-old woman has a medical abortion (an abortion induced by pills) and jokingly tells her partner he should have to make himself sick as well. (“I have some really, really old chicken,” she tells him.)

The “abortion comedy” is, indeed, an emerging genre. It’s also a real misnomer. There is no mainstream comedy movie that laughs gleefully at the personal and often very painful decision that one out of every four women will make in her lifetime to have an abortion. (Though there are, actually, countless movies that make abortions seem like the most dangerous and traumatizing thing that could ever happen to a person.)

So-called abortion comedies aren’t about women who take abortion lightly. They are movies that follow women as they make huge decisions about how to live.

Unpregnant functions like Wild Hogs or The Hangover crossed with a very highly produced Planned Parenthood PSA video. There is a car chase, an all-too-brief romance (with the dazzling Betty Who), a surprise moment with a taser, and a serious, medically accurate description of an abortion procedure.

Veronica is a straight-A high school senior in Missouri who gets pregnant when the condom breaks during sex with her boyfriend. (He notices but doesn’t tell her because, “It’s kind of perfect timing, you know? We were so unsure about us next year and now we have this!”) The closest clinic that does abortions for 16-year-olds who don’t have parental permission is three states away, in New Mexico. We watch as Veronica looks up the cost of an Uber to New Mexico, and pops all the change out of her state quarters collection, in desperation. Then she pawns her boyfriend’s proffered diamond engagement ring, jumps in a stolen Pontiac Trans Am Firebird with Bailey, and drives toward freedom.

Unpregnant, and the tiny band of movies that show abortion not as a tragedy but as a profound act of agency, are badly needed right now. Safe, accessible abortion is a constitutional right, according to the Supreme Court. But safe, legal abortions are very, very hard to access in much of America.

This is a contradiction most of us don’t want to think about, even though three quarters of Americans support the right to abortion.

The fact is that, since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, right-wing groups and politicians have worked tirelessly to pass laws that make it harder and harder to get an abortion. Regular people, even those of us who support abortion wholeheartedly, don’t really want to read the endless articles about it—they’re depressing and full of legal jargon. Despite the tough defense game by organizations like Planned Parenthood and The Center for Reproductive Rights, the people who work the hardest and care the most about abortion are often the ones who want to take it away.

<h1 class="title">OBVIOUS CHILD, from left: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, 2014. ©A24/courtesy Everett Collection</h1><div class="caption">Jenny Slate and Jake Lacy in <em>Obvious Child</em>.</div><cite class="credit">Courtesy Everett Collection</cite>

OBVIOUS CHILD, from left: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, 2014. ©A24/courtesy Everett Collection

Jenny Slate and Jake Lacy in Obvious Child.
Courtesy Everett Collection

Maybe if we don’t want to take our abortion stories as hard news, we’ll take them as shiny, star-studded blockbusters or breathtaking indies. The problem is that as a group, Unpregnant, Saint Frances, Grandma, and Obvious Child unintentionally obscure the demographics of people who seek abortions. All four of these movies feature an affluent, childless white woman seeking an abortion.

That’s just not accurate. According to the most recent data from the Guttmacher Institute, in 2014, three fourths of abortion patients were low-income, and no racial or ethnic group made up the majority of abortion patients. Plus, more than half of women who seek abortions already have at least one child. Singing Kelly Clarkson in a limo on the way to the abortion, an actual scene that happens in Unpregnant, is softly spectacular. But audiences deserve comedies about women of color and women with financial struggles having abortions—not because it’s politically correct but because it’s true.

“I don’t feel bad about the abortion,” says Richardson’s character in Unpregnant. “I know I’m supposed to, but I don’t. I know I made the right choice for me.”

Anyone would be a better ally, a more patriotic American, a more empathetic person after seeing Unpregnant or Saint Frances or any comedy that features abortion. And everyone deserves to know the freedom of flying through the air, ecstatic about a future of their own choosing.

Not just white women.

Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. You can follow her on Twitter.       

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Originally Appeared on Glamour