Recently, Jaime Keiles (of the Seventeen Magazine Project) asked some great questions about films and abortion: why do so few films depict abortions? Should we see them in films more often? Jaime had just finished watching Enter the Void, which includes a pretty realistic abortion scene. She noted that the scene made her uncomfortable, but wasn’t sure why—maybe because of its graphic nature, or because it challenged her pro-choice beliefs.
I haven’t seen Enter the Void, but I have had a few similar experiences myself lately. One of the comments on the post mentioned the film Blue Valentine, which also features an abortion scene. I saw the film last week and was surprised at the way it handled that moment. The scene wasn’t graphic, but it showed a doctor beginning the procedure and describing what he was about to do. I thought the hospital staff seemed supportive (another poster disagreed), but it did contain more of the medical details than one typically sees. As Jaime says, one more often sees “a character suddenly finds herself undesirably pregnant, spends time considering her options, and then is shown on the couch in sweatpants eating ice cream.”
I also attended a NARAL event this weekend that screened the film The Coat Hanger Project, a documentary exploring the current state of the reproductive justice movement. The filmmakers spoke to those involved in the movement, including some abortion providers. Interviewees discussed the importance of the coat hanger, which of course has its own horrifying history. They also showed some of the equipment used in modern-day abortions, including a hand-powered vacuum tube. Like Jaime, I spent more time than usual last week thinking about the details of abortion—an emotionally difficult task.
Comments on her post showed a range of reactions. Some readers thought that demystifying the process would help women ascertain all the facts about abortion and force them to take the procedure seriously. Others didn’t think that knowing all the gory details should play a significant factor in a decision essentially based on ideology. A third group fell in the middle—they thought that film exposure might prove helpful, but they didn’t think that this belonged in a film one watched for entertainment.
Predictably, I fell into the middle group. I don’t particularly want to see an abortion on film. However, I could say the same for any other medical procedure— some that are much less serious than abortion. While I think there might be a place for such films, I’m not sure it belongs in the entertainment industry. True, many films are informative, thought-provoking, depressing, or even horrifying. But I’m not sure that showing the graphic procedure adds anything to what less explicit films provide, particularly some that deal heavily with the concept of abortion.
That being said, pro-choice activists should be aware of the details of the procedure. Increasing knowledge adds strength to our position. At the very least, this will allow us to counter any false claims made by pro-life advocates. And finally, we should be wary of willful ignorance. Refusing to study a topic in-depth, or to learn more about an opposing position, suggests that we doubt the morality of our own belief. Might watching Enter the Void challenge our pro-choice views? Maybe, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t see it. Learning the graphic details might encourage one to avoid abortion, but that doesn’t require taking away the choice from everyone else. Having all the available information helps individuals make the most informed decision, one that is appropriate for them—and that, not being “pro-abortion,” is the essence of the pro-choice movement.