Want to make abortion seem normal? Make a fun, road trip comedy about it.
This is the premise of one of HBO Max’s first films, Unpregnant. The film dropped Sept. 10 and features two Missouri high schoolers on a road trip to Albuquerque, N.M., for an abortion.
Veronica, played by Haley Lu Richardson, is a straight-A, type-A teenager who finds herself pregnant by her sweet, but dumb boyfriend despite being an obsessive condom user. After some preliminary research online she realizes she can’t get an abortion in Missouri without parental consent.
The problem is her parents are “ultra-religious” and would never consent. So what’s her Plan B? Convince her estranged childhood best friend, Bailey (Barbie Ferreira), to steal her mom’s car and road trip across multiple state lines to New Mexico – that being the closest state to Missouri that allows abortions without parental consent for those under 18.
The film fails to mention other options, including adoption, or one that would have short-circuited the road-trip before it started: a judicial bypass. A judicial bypass is an order from a judge that would allow a minor to have an abortion without telling anyone.
NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri notes on its website that “minors may still obtain abortions without parental consent via the judicial bypass process, wherein a judge can grant the individual permission. This process is completely confidential.”
I made a quick call to the Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region & Southwest Missouri and told them I was a minor seeking an abortion. They gave me the phone number for the ACLU and said they could help me with the process, and that it shouldn’t take too much time.
But these facts would have gotten in the way of the agenda of the movie: to destigmatize abortion and make pro-lifers look insane. “I’m pregnant and I’m getting an abortion,” Veronica screams as she spins around through the air at one point in the film.
Jonathon Van Maren of National Review says it another way, “Unpregnant is an abortion informercial loosely disguised as a teen flick.”
That’s what director Rachel Lee Goldenberg was going for.
In an interview on NPR’s Weekend Edition she said, “Like Veronica, I had an abortion. And I was sure in what I wanted to do. I knew that I wanted to have an abortion, and then I had it. And then I was grateful for it.”
While Goldberg may not have regrets, many women do.
A comprehensive analysis of 22 studies by Professor Priscilla Coleman, PhD, published in The British Journal of Psychiatry, found “women who had undergone an abortion experienced an 81 percent increased risk of mental health problems, and nearly 10 percent of the incidence of mental health problems was shown to be attributable to abortion.”
She also found that women with a history of abortion have higher rates of anxiety (34% higher), depression (37%), alcohol use/misuse (110%) and suicidal behavior (155%), compared to those who have not had an abortion.
The two leads, Bailey and Veronica, are funny and interesting characters. The few pro-lifers or religious people in the movie are portrayed as evil or unstable. After a series of encounters, Veronica rants: “I should be able to just walk down the street and open a door and waltz right in...and say here’s my $500…Why in the hell do you have to get parental consent to get an abortion but not to birth an actual human child? “F*** you Missouri State Legislature,” she screams into the void.
After a long series of escapades that include a limo ride montage with Kelly Clarkson’s Since U Been Gone, the girls arrive at the Albuquerque clinic.
This is where the entire tone of the movie shifts, going into full infomercial mode. A voiceover from a clinic worker explains in calming tones how quick, simple and safe Veronica’s upcoming procedure will be, failing to mention the side effects and risks for a D&C abortion procedure. The Mayo Clinic notes that side effects can include: heavy bleeding, infection, perforation of the uterus and damage to the cervix.
“I actually went to a Planned Parenthood, got a tour of the facility, and got walked through all the stages,” Goldberg told HollywoodLife.com on her preparation for the movie.
Veronica pushes forward with her decision. She awakes after the procedure, in a dreamlike recovery room with other women who smile at each other in solidarity. Now unpregnant.
“I’m proud to be working on a project that will hopefully help destigmatize and normalize abortion,” Goldenberg explained. “The majority of Americans support Roe v. Wade, and one in four people who can get pregnant will have an abortion in their lifetime. Everybody knows and loves someone who’s had an abortion.”
In this sense, Goldenberg is not wrong. The statistics are clear, one in four women will have an abortion by the age of 45. But this supposedly pro-choice film looks at only one choice: abortion. While failing to mention the elephant in the room of this entire narrative: the baby. (Except as a dismissive retort from Bailey: “It’s not even a baby yet.”)
Ultimately Unpregnant is lazy filmmaking, failing to wrestle with any of the big questions surrounding this issue. What is life? Why does this matter? What options are available? How can we support both women and babies?
Goldenberg’s choice to walk through Planned Parenthood, but not a pregnancy resource center is telling. She was never truly interested in sharing both sides of the story.
Watch Save the Storks’ latest documentary from Bettendorf, Iowa on one pregnancy resource center’s journey to reclaim a former Planned Parenthood.
More Stork Bus Stories can be found here.
Brittany Smith is the Senior News Writer for Save the Storks. She covers pro-life news and stories. Save the Storks' partners with pregnancy resource centers across the United States to empower women with choice during pregnancy. In addition to Stork Buses, Storks is helping to change hearts and minds with compelling social media and awareness campaigns, unique events and support to PRCs who provide outreach programs to mothers and fathers facing an unplanned pregnancy. To date, Save the Storks has put 59 Stork Buses on the road.