In "Obvious Child," Life Goes On After Abortion

posted June 20, 2014

As a talkline counselor for Exhale, I have the privilege of supporting women around their abortions. With trust, openness, and the power of human connection, our work on the line breaks down the stigma around abortion and honors the unique lived experiences of women with abortion stories.

These callers’ stories are incredibly diverse, but I often hear a sense of isolation around what is an incredibly common occurrence. Abortion is too seldom talked about in a personal, experiential, and non-political way. Exhale has been engaged in that kind of abortion conversation for more than a decade, but I’ve been waiting for popular culture to catch up.

That’s why I was so excited to hear about “Obvious Child,” a new rom-com about a young woman who, after a one-night-stand, finds herself pregnant and knows she's going to have an abortion.

Obvious Child trailer

SPOILER ALERT: the following contains some plot-revealing information about the film.

Protagonist Donna Stern is relatable, warm and hilarious. Within the first few minutes of the film, I felt like I knew her. What felt particularly powerful about this story is that the abortion, for Donna, is a given. The filmmaker, Gillian Robespierre, seems to be saying: “Abortion happens. It probably has happened to your friend, your sister, that cool girl you want to get to know.” For Donna, it was clear what was best for her life.

What isn’t so clear, for Donna and for many women I’ve talked to on the Exhale talk line, is what comes next. Amid all the other messy parts of her life right now, how does an abortion fit in?

Will she tell the one-night-stand-with-potential, Max? How will she tell him, when they hardly know each other?

How will she afford the procedure, when it costs about a whole month’s rent? Will she have to explain her situation to her parents and even borrow money from them?

And how will she handle all this while also facing the fallout of a nasty breakup and impending joblessness?

All these questions are ones that I’ve heard over and over during my time as a talk line counselor for Exhale. Donna doesn’t have all the answers, but she tries to figure it out the best way she can, in the way that feels most genuine to her. That’s really all a woman can do. For Donna, this means comedy.

In a remarkable scene, Donna performs a stand-up routine and confesses to her audience that tomorrow she’ll have her abortion. Then, as she says: “I’m going to be in my future. See you on the other side.” Life just threw a whole bunch of curve balls at Donna, but she’s going to get through it. Life goes on.

She doesn’t get through it alone though. In one of the most touching scenes of the film, Donna sneaks into her mother’s apartment, and crawls, crying, into her bed. She confesses that she is pregnant, and learns that her mother, too, had an abortion as a teenager.  In listening and sharing, the two demonstrate an emotional intimacy that the audience hadn’t witnessed until then. This scene is a reminder of all possibilities that can unfold when women share their abortion stories with one another.

I loved “Obvious Child” for its humor and heart. I can’t wait to see what other pro-voice portrayals of women’s abortion stories it inspires.

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