Abortion, shmashmortion

"Knocked Up" avoids directly addressing abortion -- does that make it anti-choice?

Topics: Abortion, Broadsheet, Love and Sex,

All week I’ve been avoiding writing about the dust-up over the fact that “Knocked Up” avoids addressing abortion as a choice for its young protagonist who unexpectedly gets pregnant. I’m just not a very impartial judge, being a die-hard fan of director Judd Apatow’s cult hit “Freaks and Geeks.”

All that being said, Slate’s Dana Stevens makes an interesting argument against Apatow’s choice to avoid mentioning abortion in the movie — aside from a jokey reference to the option that “rhymes with shmashmortion.” In her review last week of the movie, she made a quick aside about the fact that the abortion option was conveniently and very purposefully overlooked: “This omission smells of the focus group, and it’s a disappointment in a movie that otherwise prides itself on its unsentimental honesty about the realities of unplanned parenthood.”

The reader response to that aside was such that she decided to tackle the issue one more time. Today, she writes that Apatow’s avoidance reveals his “fear of offending his audience’s sensibilities.” She continues: “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.”



The whole thing seems pretty simple to me: The story line revolves around Katherine Heigl’s character getting pregnant and having a baby — if she were to have an abortion there wouldn’t be a movie. That she decides to have the baby doesn’t strike me as offensive or an overt, anti-choice statement. Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek didn’t see the movie as a “right-to-life tract” but “simply delicate-handed enough to know that neither it nor the Supreme Court can dictate what a woman’s choice should be.” And the New York Times’ A.O. Scott read the whole “shmashmortion” scene as “a funny, knowing riff on the reluctance of movies and television shows even to use the word ‘abortion.’”

But, Stevens makes an interesting argument for why Apatow should have at least explored why Heigl’s character decides to keep the baby — though, to be sure, she’s holding this summer comedy to an unusually high standard: “Her character becomes a cipher, a foil … without being allowed any epiphanies of her own.”

Tracy Clark-Flory

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

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