Juno's Politics

[This post contains spoilers] I keep thinking about Ross's post on the politics of Juno and his contention that:

None of this means that movie is a brief for overturning Roe v. Wade; far from it. But like Knocked Up, it's decidedly a brief for not getting an abortion.



I really don't know. I mean, consider alternatives. There's no way to make a movie about a single woman and her unplanned pregnancy if you make the unplanned pregnancy end with an early abortion the way most such pregnancies end. But it can't be that the mere act of telling the story of a non-abortion constitutes a "brief" for getting not getting an abortion. And much of the plot of Juno is consistent with everything going awry after Mark and Venessa break up. If things had gone awry, you would have wound up with a very different film in terms of this alleged anti-abortion message -- you'd have something about how even leaving aside the inconvenience, etc., adoption is no panacea.

Instead, that all ends up happily and Juno even finds true love. But it's that -- the positive outcome rather than the portrayal of the decision itself -- that lends the film something of an anti-abortion quality. Like Knocked Up it's a film where a woman decides not to have an abortion under circumstances where an abortion seemed like a likely outcome, and then despite some difficulties it all winds up well in the end. But is this really a political message, or is it just Hollywood sentimentality? If it's the former, then it winds up being a pretty dumb message.

It would be a message that posits that the whole phenomenon of abortion in the United States is a kind of giant analytical error on the part of American women -- tons and tons of them are getting pregnant and having abortions because they think carrying the pregnancy to term would have very bad consequences for their lives, but actually they're mistaken. You might think your unplanned pregnancy would hurt your career as an on-air television personality, but really it will advance your career! You might think your parents will be mad and your friends will ostracize you, but really they'll all be supportive! Best of all, sticking with your unplanned pregnancy is solid ticket to love and marriage! But at the end of the day, it's really just silly to suppose that any huge proportion of abortions are mistakes like that.

The crux of the political problem for the anti-abortion movement is that pro-life activists think that a woman should be legally required to carry her pregnancy to term whether or not the consequences of doing so are likely to be negative. If making an effective "brief" for not having an abortion requires you to just posit that the non-abortion path will work out super-well, then you're simply not engaging the argument. Juno's family and friends are helpful and supportive and good for them and good for her. And Alison Scott's employers are enthusiastic about her pregnancy. But what about teenage girls whose parents aren't helpful and supportive? What about women whose careers really would be imperiled by a pregnancy? Those women are the real subjects of the abortion controversy and I don't think Juno or Knocked Up really has anything to say about them. Which doesn't harm them as light comedies, but does, I think, totally undermine efforts to construe them as having important political messages.