Knocked Up, Again

I'm a little baffled by Dana Stevens' piece on abortion and Knocked Up, which doubles as an extended response to my post on the subject. In her original review, she wrote about "the nonexistence of abortion as an option" in the movie, and argued that this "omission smells of the focus group." I responded that actually, abortion is presented as an option in the movie; it's just presented in an extremely negative light. "I have no idea where Judd Apatow stands on the politics of abortion," I wrote - and added that "if I had to guess, I'd say he's probably a Saletan-style 'it's bad, but it has to be legal' type" - but the movie he's made pretty explicitly presents abortion as 1) a real option and 2) "a really horrible thing to do." This may not be sociologically realistic, I noted, given who the characters are supposed to be, but neither is it the "omission" that Stevens suggested it was.

In her response, Stevens first admits that yes, the movie does address abortion, and in so doing "discredits the ... moral standing" of the only character making an extended case for terminating the pregnancy. But then she writes:

The question is, from whose point of view is it that abortion is "a really horrible thing to do"? Apatow's? We have no idea from the film what the filmmaker's personal abortion politics are—I'd imagine that he votes pro-choice, whatever his reservations as an individual—but for the purposes of this discussion, it doesn't matter. Apatow's reticence on the subject seems to spring less from personal conviction than from the fear of offending his audience's sensibilities. This kind of Trojan horse moralism is maddeningly common in pop-culture representations of abortion, which seem muzzled, invisibly policed, by either the pro-life lobby or the fear of it.

"From whose point of view"? From the movie's point of view, obviously! Yes, as I said myself, we don't know Apatow's politics, and it's quite likely that he supports legal abortion. But he's made a movie that - as Stevens now admits - doesn't just skirt the issue, but goes out of its way to make "smashmortion" seem like the wrong choice. He could have easily followed the pattern of, say, the Sex and the City episode where Miranda almost gets an abortion - an episode that spent twenty minutes patting the pro-choice side on the back before having Cynthia Nixon's character decide to keep the baby. But he didn't; he made a movie that makes the case for abortion seem like the province of gross slacker males and uptight, materialistic WASP shrews. Stevens is free to assume that he did so "less from personal conviction than from the fear of offending his audience's sensibilities," and to see in this the dread hand of the pro-life lobby, crushing artistic freedom yet again. I'll just stick to, you know, analyzing the movie.

Then she writes:

That same Atlantic blog post concludes with the opinion that the movie is "almost naively pro-life"—that Alison decides to keep her baby because "killing it" would be "obviously and terribly wrong," and Alison, bless her heart, is not a "bad person" who would do such a thing. The 77 percent of Americans who support abortion rights—and the 40 percent or more of American women who have exercised that right—can be excused for wondering where that supposedly obvious moral consensus is coming from.

Um, that's precisely why I said it's naively pro-life - because it doesn't really acknowledge the existence of a pro-choice case that isn't associated with horrible mothers and misognyist roommates. Again, it's not me that Stevens should be arguing with; it's Apatow. And incidentally, if 77 percent of Americans are really pro-abortion rights, then why does making a movie that takes an "abortion is bad" approach "smell of the focus group"?

Of course, those statistics are largely rubbish. But I'll get to that later.

Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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