There is a moment in Not pregnant, a buddies comedy film about Abortion Now streaming on HBO Max, it’s so magical, so dead in its rendering of the frightening joy of being alive that it will stay with you much longer than any title announcing the condemnation 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 whirlwind funfair ride on a spring night in Texas, shouting the truths to each other.
“THE FIRST TIME I MASTURBED,” Bailey (Ferreira) shouts over the roar of the fairgoers. “WAS AT EMMA WATSON. IN DEATH HALLOWS. “
Veronica (Richardson) stares at her friend through wind-whipped hair. “PART ONE OR PART TWO?” she cries back.
The ride forces them back to their seats as they speed forward. “I AM PREGNANT AND I HAVE AN ABORTION!” Veronica screams in the wind, her sense of freedom floating across the dark sky like fireworks.
“If America laughs at this, America is beyond redemption,” the Media Research Center, a right-wing watchdog group, wrote in a item 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 an overnight affair with a man who has the hapless nickname Pee-farter.
But the article might as well have been about Not pregnant. Or about the 2015 comedy Grandmother, who, like Not pregnant, features two very different women (played by Lily tomlin and Julia Garner) who go on a road trip that ends in an abortion. Or the insanely good indie movie of 2019 Saint francoise, in which a 34-year-old woman has a medical abortion (an abortion induced by pills) and jokes to her partner that he should also make himself sick. (“I have really, really old chicken,” she tells him.)
“Abortion comedy” is, indeed, an emerging genre. It is also a real abuse of language. There isn’t a mainstream comedy movie that happily laughs at the personal and often very painful decision that one in four women will make in their lifetime to have an abortion. (Although there are, in fact, countless movies that make abortion seem like the most dangerous and traumatic thing that can happen to a person.)
So-called abortion comedies are not about women who take abortion lightly. These are movies that follow women as they make huge decisions about how to live.
Not pregnant functions like Wild pigs or The Hangover crossed with a very produced PSA Planned Parenthood video. There’s a car chase, an over-brief love affair (with the dazzling Betty Who), a moment of surprise with a taser, and a serious, medically accurate description of an abortion procedure.
Veronica is a straight high school girl from Missouri who gets pregnant when the condom breaks during sex with her boyfriend. (He notices it but doesn’t tell her because, “It’s a perfect time, you know? We weren’t sure about ourselves next year and now we have it!”) parental consent in three states, New Mexico. We watch Veronica research the cost of an Uber in New Mexico and pull all the change out of her collection of state districts, in desperation. Then she pawns her boyfriend’s diamond engagement ring, jumps in a stolen Pontiac Trans Am Firebird with Bailey, and heads for freedom.
Not pregnant, and the small group of films which show abortion not as a tragedy but as a profound act of agency, are absolutely necessary at this time. Safe and accessible abortion is a constitutional right, according to the Supreme Court. But legal and safe abortions are very, very difficult to access in much of America.
It’s a contradiction that most of us don’t want to think about, even though three quarters of Americans support the right to abortion.
The point is that since Roe deer v. Wade abortion legalized, right-wing groups and politicians have worked tirelessly to pass laws that make abortion increasingly difficult. Ordinary people, even those of us who wholeheartedly support abortion, I don’t really want to read the endless articles on this topic– they are depressing and full of legal jargon. Despite the tough advocacy game of 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 remove it.
Maybe if we don’t want to take our abortion stories as hard news, we’ll take them as shiny, star-studded blockbusters or jaw-dropping indies. The problem is that as a group, Not pregnant, saint françoise, grandmother, and Obvious child unintentionally obscuring the demographics of people seeking abortions. These four films feature an affluent, childless white woman seeking an abortion.
This is simply not correct. According to the most recent data from the Guttmacher Institute, in 2014, three-quarters of abortion patients were low-income, and no racial or ethnic group represented the majority of abortion patients. In addition, more than half of women who request an abortion already have at least one child. Singing Kelly Clarkson in a limo on the way to the abortion, an actual scene set in Not pregnant, is gently spectacular. But audiences deserve comedies about women of color and financially struggling women who have abortions, not because it’s politically correct, but because it’s true.
“I don’t feel bad about abortion,” Richardson’s character says in Not pregnant. “I know I’m supposed to, but I’m not. 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 Not pregnant or Saint francoise or any comedy featuring abortion. And everyone deserves to know the freedom to fly in the air, delighted with a future of their choice.
Not just white women.
Jenny Singer is a writer for Charm. You can follow her on Twitter.
Originally appeared on Charm