‘Unpregnant’ Normalizes Abortion, And That’s Critically Important

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
Oleksandr Boliukh/Getty

Teen pregnancy isn’t a new subject matter for a film. There are movies like Juno, Saved, Riding In Cars With Boys, etc. But there aren’t any films that focus on the teen girl having an abortion. Enter Unpregnant, an original film on HBO Max.

In Unpregnant, Veronica (played brilliantly by Haley Lu Richardson) is a high school senior who gets pregnant by her high school boyfriend. Knowing that a pregnancy will ruin the perfect life she’s cultivated, she decides to have an abortion. But she can’t tell anyone her plan — her friends wouldn’t understand, and her religious parents would freak. The film does an incredible job at realistically portraying what it is to make the decision to have an abortion.

Unpregnant does a great job at showing the lengths a woman has to go to have an abortion. Veronica lives in Missouri and finds that because she’s only 17, the closest place she can get an abortion without parental consent is Albuquerque, New Mexico. And the only person who can help her is her childhood best friend, Bailey (played by the hilarious Barbie Ferreira.) Bailey also happens to be the person who found Veronica taking a pregnancy test in school. What’s so clever about the film is that it packages very important subject matter as a road trip comedy. But you never really forget what they’re on a mission to do.

“Normalizing abortion is what we have to do,” Ferreira explained in an interview with Cosmopolitan. “Society puts this pressure on people who are getting abortions, that they should feel a lot of guilt and shame and really emotional about it. Most people are just relieved.”

Overall, abortion rates in the United States are dropping. According to research compiled by Pew Research Center in 2013, the rate of teen (15 to 19 years old) abortion has been on a steady decline since the 1970s. In 2013, of the 450,000 teen pregnancies, about 24 percent ended in abortions. And the CDC reports that teen pregnancies in general have been declining in the last few years. There are a lot of reasons for the decline, but having a better understanding of their options is one of them. While the CDC doesn’t give specific stats about the teenage abortion rate specifically, they said in 2016 there were about 11.6 abortions per 1,000 women.

Of course, Unpregnant shows other realities of what it’s like for women, especially young women, having an abortion. In one scene, the girls find themselves stuck at a carnival in Texas. After they make plans to get a ride, a very nice, generic looking couple and their baby approach. Instantly you’re like “oh shit.” So they offer the girls a ride and stupidly, they accept. They wake up the next morning in the car unsure of where they are. Turns out, the couple has taken them to their home instead. You know something is up because they still have Veronica’s phone. Over a pancake breakfast, they inform the girls they offered a ride because they heard them making the appointment for the abortion at the carnival.

The ensuing chaos is done in a really clever way. It would be easy to paint them as the cult-like Jesus freaks they clearly are. But instead it’s hilarious. The girls steal the keys to the family’s SUV and book it. Suddenly, the husband, played by Breckin Meyer, appears driving a camper. That would have been funny enough, but the camper has a giant praying baby on the front. So imagine a giant praying baby camper chasing two teens in an SUV through the desert, with the driver trying to coax them back over the camper’s loudspeaker.

He means well, and isn’t inherently a bad person. And that’s what is really brilliant about the whole scene. More often than not, the portrayal of evangelical pro-lifers in the media makes them out to be nuts. And it’s not that some of these people aren’t insane, but they’re also very normal. They truly believe they’re doing the right thing. Even though we know they’re really not.

“You’re exactly the type of person to get a secret abortion,” Bailey hisses at Veronica in another scene. And it’s true. There is no “type” of person who gets an abortion, and that’s the whole point. Per society’s beliefs, Bailey would be the one who got pregnant at 17. She is moderately supervised by her mom and is a loner. Veronica is smart, has loving parents, and is well-liked. But just as in real life, even the well-liked, smart girls are having sex. Anyone having sex can get pregnant.

One of the most honest scenes in Unpregnant is the actual abortion scene. It would be very easy for them to do something incredibly dramatic and graphic, but they present it in a very honest way. As the nurse describes the procedure, you see it happening on screen. That’s it. There’s no commentary or underlying meaning attached to it. This portrays it as exactly what it is: a medical procedure. During the scene, I was worried that she would change her mind after all they’d been through, but she never does. So many other shows and movies that deal with abortion use that moment right before to show the character’s doubt and sway their decision. But Unpregnant doesn’t do that. You can see that Veronica is obviously nervous, but she never ever wavers from her decision. It was refreshing to see.

Another really refreshing thing is Veronica’s emotional journey throughout Unpregnant. While she never falters in her need for an abortion, she does change her mind about her openness talking about it. At first, she doesn’t want anyone to know. Which makes sense; she’s 17 and has all her shit together. She feels like a failure and doesn’t want to let anyone down. But as she goes through this insane journey just to have the procedure, it causes her to change her mind. She goes through a battle to keep her autonomy. Throughout the film, she realizes how unfair the whole process of abortion is. Women shouldn’t have to drive almost 1,000 miles across multiple states to have an abortion if they want one.

Unpregnant takes a stance on abortion, but never makes a judgment in either direction. It emphasizes the importance of a woman having the option of choice, and how the problem with the ability to choose is the lack of availability for those making the choice. Veronica knows what’s best for her, and she just wants that choice honored. The film never says “teen pregnancy = bad and abortion = good.” What it does is highlight the heart of every argument on the subject.

The only person who can truly make a decision about abortion is the person the pregnancy is directly affecting, and Unpregnant does a fantastic job of letting us see the struggles — both internal and external — of making such a choice.