J. Hoberman on Abortion

Please read this extraordinary passage.

If Knocked Up‘s Alison were a devout (or even lapsed) Catholic in addition to being a glamorous newsreader, if Waitress‘s guilt-ridden Jenna imagined that a child would improve her disastrous marriage, if little Juno were planning a welfare scam to fund her alt-rock band or simply wanted to gross out the neighbors, these narratives would still function, but now with the added aspect of free will. (This is the paradox at the heart of Todd Solondz’s authentically problematic _Palindromes_—the movie is pro-choice in that its 13-year-old protagonist chooses to get pregnant because she wants to have a baby.)

My own take is that Juno’s decision is best understood in the context of her non-conformity. This passage, in contrast, suggests that some degree of sentimentality towards an innocent unborn child, and I realize that these terms are red flags for some, is almost literally senseless. Waitress is described as “pathetic” because, I assume, Jenna was initially very hostile to her unborn child and allowed warmer feelings to develop over time. So one time-slice, a moment of anger and indeed vengeful anger, is privileged as more morally sound than Jenna’s later sentiments. The vengeful anger, and the desire to evacuate the fetus, is not pathetic. The sense that an abortion would be the wrong choice, an unfair choice perhaps, is pathetic.

Then, of course, there is Juno’s “welfare scam.” Hoberman doesn’t seem to understand the subliminal game going on here: this is why I’m glad I read Will Saletan’s Bearing Right. The notion that teen mothers have children as part of a “welfare scam” is not new. It is closely associated with the intense hostility directed against so-called welfare mothers. Again, Hoberman finds this to be one of the few plausible, emotionally convincing reasons why a teenager would give birth to an “unwanted” child. Note that Juno, to her credit, understands that a child unwanted by her isn’t an intrinsically unwanted child. But I digress.

I’d go on, but to what end? I’ll add only that the Romanian fertility regime was one of the great evils of the 20th century. That should go without saying. I’m saddened to say it deployed so ham-handedly to make a narrow political point, namely that women like Jenna or Juno are senseless imbeciles or male fantasies or politically inconvenient and thus unacceptable. Consider this last line.

Like Knocked Up and the others, it’s set in a world where unwanted pregnancies occur, and legal abortion is not an option.

The extreme … inaptness of this remark is literally breathtaking.

This instinct to control — to advance the notion that there is only once acceptable notion of parenthood or womanhood — was of course essential to the Ceausescu nightmare. So now I’ve entered the polemical sweepstakes.