Mar 16, 2009 Print this article

No Happy Ending for Abortion

In the early days of women’s “liberation,” many activists saw abortion as a necessary and even desirable component of the sexual revolution of the sixties. Freed from childbearing, women could engage in numerous relationships without consequences.

However, like many of the tenets of feminism itself, such attitudes no longer prevail. In the grueling battle over abortion, there is growing public perception of antipathy to the barbarous practice. There is a certain remorse surrounding the issue that even its most ardent supporters find difficult to overcome.

Such a perception represents a psychological victory on the part of those pro-life forces whose tireless efforts have put a tiny human face on abortion. They have turned the debate into a moral problem that gnaws at the conscience of the nation. It is a matter for which there is no happy ending.

Cultural War in Hollywood

One area where this attitude is reflected is Hollywood – long a producer of happy endings.

American conservatives have fought a long and relentless Cultural War with Hollywood over its regular and shameless fare of violence, profanity, sex and nudity. Because of this, huge portions of middle America have abandoned a box office which they once frequented. Hollywood responded by simply writing them off.

The interesting news from the front is that Hollywood is steering clear of abortion – a development that seems to suggest that more than just conservatives are disturbed by the portrayal.

In her June 10 article, “On Abortion, Hollywood Is No-Choice,” New York Times writer Mireya Navarro reveals a skittish film industry that tiptoes around the abortion controversy. She reports that film characters that find themselves pregnant rarely resort to abortion. They hardly utter the word. Writers will often have their characters conveniently miscarry or even keep the baby to avoid the A-word solution.

A Change of Heart?

Such portrayals hardly represent a change of heart.

However, it is indicative of a national uneasiness about abortion that is so sensitive that even almighty Hollywood dares not push the envelope.

In her article, Mireya Navarro mentions “directors of feel-good movies don’t want to risk portraying their heroines as unsympathetic characters.”

She quotes Jonathan Kuntz, an American film history professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, as saying: “It’s something that’s going to turn off people on both sides unless you do it just right. It’s no surprise Hollywood avoids it.”

She notes that even in films that do feature abortion such as “The Cider House Rules,” the women do not fare well in their portrayals. Abortion is simply not big box office matter. Even television where the market is more fragmented avoids abortion to avoid alienating advertisers, affiliates and viewers.

Indeed, Ms. Navarro cites writers who have no problem broaching other controversial topics, like nudity, premarital sex and homosexual relationships. However, when it comes to taking out abortion references, writers curiously do not scream censorship but seem spinelessly resigned to stay clear of the subject. One writer even meekly defended a network decision to pull an episode of his work as “the best we could figure out under the circumstances.”

Christopher Keyser, co-creator of the Fox drama “Party of Five,” credits the vibrant pro-life movement as one reason for this attitude. “Even though a majority may favor abortion rights,” he mistakenly affirms, “the minority position is extremely active and vocal.”

In fact, not only is abortion avoided but opposition is growing. “In the twenty-first century, abortion is at the top of the taboo heap,” said Robert Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University. “Abortion is not only at the top of it, but it’s climbed higher, where other taboos have fallen off the mountain”(J. Pender Zane,“Hollywood Tiptoes Around Abortion,” Raleigh News & Observer, 6/12/2007).

Making Hollywood Tremble

News of the Hollywood refusal to deal with abortion has set the feminist blogosphere all ablaze with recriminations at the film industry for caving in to the conservative and religious right. One commentator even accused Hollywood of fostering a “destructive pro-life culture.”

However, avoiding abortion on film is not about conservatives or their agenda. Hollywood has long ignored that market niche. Rather it reflects a much broader public perception that worries the film industry. Unlike so many other countries who have matter-of-factly accepted abortion as a “medical matter,” America is different.

Hollywood trembles because of the American people’s deep ambivalence about abortion. Despite all the rhetoric about “celebrating choice,” feminists have been unable to erase the tragedy that inevitably follows abortion. They cannot shake the stigma that comes attached. Even the most ardent pro-abortion political candidates must cast abortion as a sad and unfortunate necessity that is best avoided.

This happened because an “extremely active and vocal” pro-life movement has kept the moral reality of abortion before the public. By fearlessly opposing the killing of unborn human life, abortion has taken on a moral dimension that has divided the nation. However, even more importantly, it has divided the pro-abortionists and their sympathizers who now express misgivings and doubts about the barbarous practice.

While the battle to end abortion is far from over, the silence in “no-choice” Hollywood speaks volumes.