Another article in the Guardian about how movies depicting pregnancy are somehow anti-abortion: after ‘Knocked Up’, it’s the new (and very charming) ‘Juno’ that is in trouble (see below for the link). “Hollywood heroines who don’t consider abortion are of a generation taking its rights for granted,” is the misleading subtitle of Hadley Freeman’s piece. Actually, sixteen-year-old Juno does consider abortion. She goes to an abortion clinic and then changes her mind. I suspect that considering abortion isn’t enough, though – Juno needs to go through with an abortion, if she’s going to keep columnists off her case.
My book ‘Slam’, which is about a sixteen-year-old father, also got attacked on these grounds in at least one American review, so I have a special interest in this debate. Alicia, the boy’s ex-girlfriend, is determined not to have an abortion because she read pro-life propaganda on the internet, and can’t be persuaded to rethink her decision. I would like Hadley Freeman, my critic and all the others to explain, patiently and carefully, to Judd Apatow (the writer of ‘Knocked Up’, Diablo Cody (‘Juno’) and myself how we can write about pregnancy and unplanned parenthood without causing offence.
There are two problems with Freeman’s argument. The first is tonal: Freeman contrasts ‘Juno’ and ‘Knocked Up’ (funny films) with the “harrowing” ‘Vera Drake’ and the “horrors” of the Romanian film ‘Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days’ (as indicated, not funny films), and her choice of h-words might go some way towards explaining the difficulties the makers of the funny films might find themselves in, were they to take the path Freeman is mapping out for them.
The other, more fundamental problem is narrative. Should ‘Slam’, ‘Knocked Up’ and ‘Juno’ all end a third of the way through, with a visit to a clinic? Are these people really saying that you mustn’t write about pregnancy because you’re somehow letting the side down? And it’s not as if Apatow, Cody and I are living in some kind of cute fictional fantasy world: young people do have babies they hadn’t bargained for, all the time. Britain has the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe, and young parenthood seemed to me a subject worth addressing. (The truth is that I did struggle to understand why Alicia wouldn’t want an abortion. But clearly, teenage mothers in the UK are not having abortions, despite the comparative availability, and I struggle to understand Alicia’s real-life counterparts, too.) Abortion and pregnancy are opposites: you really can’t have it both ways. If you’re writing about one, then it’s tricky to write about the other. For the record, I’m very much pro-choice. I’m pro-choice for women, and I’m pro-choice for writers, too.