Olivarius: A pregnant pause

Culture Quotient

Once upon a time, sex was taboo. It certainly happened, but you didn’t talk about it. The pill didn’t exist; condoms were hard to get — actually illegal even for married couples until the 1960s — so there was always the fear of pregnancy. If that happened, you might get married. Or you might get an illegal abortion, and, if you were lucky, survive it.

Today, we live in a very different country. We talk about sex constantly. Birth control has revolutionized sexual attitudes. A 2007 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey by the Centers for Disease Control found that 47.8 percent of high school students have had sex. “The Brady Bunch” made headlines for showing a married couple in the same bed, but now it’s not uncommon to show sex on broadcast television. Magazines and movies have followed a similar trend.

But what is still missing is a constructive and realistic engagement in Hollywood with two closely linked sexual issues: teen pregnancy and abortion.

In 2007, then 16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears shocked the world when she announced that she was pregnant with her boyfriend’s child. In her post-baby interview with OK! Magazine, she showed off her newborn, shared memories of a “perfect” delivery, disclosed her dream to be a Southern soccer mom and said “Being a mom is the best feeling in the world!”

Beautiful, but dangerous words, Jamie Lynn. Words that glorify exactly what we, as a country, should be working against — more teen pregnancies. America has the highest teen-pregnancy rate of any industrialized country. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that nearly one-third of American girls get pregnant before 20. Thus, there are a lot of young moms, with fewer resources than Jamie Lynn, struggling to raise kids though still children themselves.

Hollywood’s big and little screens add to this glorification. “Juno,” the “Grey’s Anatomy” episode from a couple of weeks ago, MTV’s “Sixteen and Pregnant” and many others depict heartwarming stories of teens getting knocked up and struggling to figure out what motherhood means. Hollywood loves telling these stories — so full of drama, awkward sex and emotions. Clearly, sex (and pregnancy) sells.

But Hollywood usually tells these teen-pregnancy stories by focusing on Michael Cera’s adorable smile and Ellen Page’s banter and skipping or sugarcoating the less fun bits of being a pregnant teen or a young mom.

Few movies depict that many pregnant teens cannot afford to support a child, will be mocked by their classmates, won’t have a partner’s help and will have to forsake many of their dreams.

And though not all mothers decide to keep their babies — “Juno” tells a charming story of adoption — it is striking that Hollywood almost never talks about abortion.

Like sex, abortion is also a reality in this country. In 2006, 846,181 legal abortions were reported to the CDC. Two percent of women aged 15 to 44 had an abortion in 2008.

But this reality is seldom portrayed in film. “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” is one of the few movies that depicts teens getting abortions in a straightforward, legal way. That was 28 years ago, in the heyday of Roe v. Wade.

Now, on the big screen, women usually conveniently miscarry or decide to keep the baby.

On “Sex and the City,” Samantha and Carrie discuss their abortions, but the conversations only last one episode. Miranda can’t go though with her abortion when she gets pregnant. Katherine Heigl in “Knocked Up” hardly considers the option. Juno barely even makes it inside the doors of the clinic before turning around. In “Private Practice,” 15-year-old Maya makes it to the operating table, but she gets cold feet too. A 16-year-old character on “Party of Five” suitably miscarries after deciding to go to the clinic.

Evidently abortion, especially in relation to teens, is not box-office material.

Maybe abortion is too polarizing an issue to approach in “Grey’s.” Networks risk alienating large portions of potential audiences and sponsors. And in today’s political climate, it may be too dangerous. Abortion clinics are bombed and doctors who perform them are murdered, as the Supreme Court whittles away at Roe v. Wade. And many see abortion as a private issue — a decision women struggle with alone, not something to be talked about by Patrick Dempsey.

Consequently, abortion is like sex 50 years ago: a great taboo. It happens, but no one talks about it.

With women’s reproductive freedoms are under attack, why shouldn’t Hollywood talk about it now? Hollywood grapples with other controversial issues — drugs, race and homosexuality. Why aren’t they willing to tackle abortion as well? And why not talk about teen pregnancy in a way that more clearly portrays the hardship of young motherhood and not just cravings for liverwurst?

If Hollywood continues to manipulate the reality of sexuality, glorifying teen moms and ignoring abortion, we will only hear more stories like the one from Gloucester, Mass. In 2008, 17 teenage girls got pregnant on purpose and formed a “pregnancy pact” — girls clearly unaware that motherhood is anything but glamorous. They made the news and a movie on Lifetime.

The girl who walks in to Planned Parenthood and makes a difficult decision almost never does.

Kathryn Olivarius is a junior in Branford College.


  • Sad but True

    Nature with capital N is not interested one jot in monogamy, birth control, or abortion.

    As Thornton Wilder said: Nature has one goal and one goal only—-to cover the planet with as much protoplasm as it can as fast as it can.

    And it has succeeded admirably, except for a few endangered species (ourselves included, these days).

    Teenage pregnancy is becoming a grotesque conspicuous consumption: Look what I’ve got, that you don’t.

    It’s also a way for lonely kids to be loved.

    Sad but true.


  • yay

    thank you for saying this. great column.

  • yale 2011

    great article! i had never really thought before about the fact that our attitudes had been revolutionized with respect to teen pregnancy in the popular media (though i certainly think being a pregnant teenager is still deeply stigmatized in many communities), the media’s attitude towards abortion has remained the same.

  • awesome

    This is a wonderful column. I liked Olivarius’s last week too.

    Good on ya YDN.

  • asale

    Sure, let’s compromise artist’s artistic license to fit your own political agenda.. Also, let’s change the Disney movie ‘Cars’ to feature only hybrids because otherwise it sends the wrong message..

  • yale 2010

    i actually had this very thought after i watched that episode of grey’s. i’m glad i’m not the only one who has noticed this trend, and i’m equally glad that it has been put into words.

  • no pact

    pretty sure that the “pact” was just speculation from the school’s principal that sparked the media frenzy.

  • y11

    What an absolutely charming article! So oozing with class and logic! One for the ages, certainly.

  • unbelievable

    Abortion is wrong!!!! The killing of babies is wrong!!!! Even in Hollyweird!

    What should be widely discussed is the other A word….ADOPTION.

    This article just represents why liberals at Yale cant see outside their bubble. Very sad!

    Just a thought, when you get older and look back at your opinions during your youth, you will not believe you’re the same person! And thank God for that.

  • unbelievable

    On second thought, I retract my last comment. Re-reading your article has converted this former pro-lifer. Thank you, Ms. Olivarius.

  • the real unbelievable

    I dont know who you are #10 and really dont care! Please dont speak on my behalf and change my words around!

    You just prove how vicious Pro-choicers really are and what a twisted agenda you have! Shame on you!!!!

  • the real unbelievable

    Also, I don’t at all sound ridiculous and insane. It’s actually true really makes me hate pro-choicers and what proves how vicious they are is that they mock me on the internet. Not that they support killing unborn children.

    And, abortion is only supported in Hollyweird and the Yale bubble, not anywhere else in America, and those who support it aren’t in touch with the tiny fraction of Americans who have somehow kept it legal, and often voted down increased restrictions on it.

  • Disgusted

    What a rediculous article. The reason Hollywood does not promote abortion is because the majority of this country knows that it is wrong. It may be legal today but most know in their heart it is morally wrong. It doesn’t matter how appealing you package the concept of abortion it is possibly the most selfish thing a person can do.

    Your article just proves how backwards our country has become and how sick the pro-death supporters have become. The fact you’d write an article complaining that we do not promote infant genocide is flat out sick.

  • Chase O-M

    Whomever is the author of this remarkable and brooding theological treatise ought to be commended. As #11 points out, few authors attempt, let alone can master, the artistic, historical, representational, and scientific complexities of the pro-choice position – too vicious is that truth, too grave are its subscribers. Yet the author of this column manages exactly that feat, with literary grace, moral elegance, and an astonishing breadth of legal evidence.

    One is moved to ask whether this column’s conception, immaculate as it is, proves the existence of God, that perfection is attainable, or that humans too can be Divine Creators.

    These questions are as great as they are terrible: and we may never know the answers.

    It is my only hope that this miracle of a column be repeated.

  • Lifetime

    The Lifetime movie, for the most part, made teen pregnancy seem awful. Most of those girls were miserable by the end of the movie.

  • a different voice

    In contrast to some of the more hysterical posts being made here —

    I generally regard myself as a pro-choicer — I don’t believe I should speak for others — although I could never in good conscience choose abortion for myself.

    However, I found your article troubling in that you definitely come off as sounding pro-abortion. I thought both sides were at least making some headway in the agreement that abortion is undesirable (removing oneself from the word ‘wrong’). Ala Hillary Clinton’s quote, something to the effect of making abortion, safe, legal, and rare.

    Yes, people should know their legal options, and yes there should be less stigma attached to young girls having abortions, but I can’t think of any reason you would invoke Hollywood than that you actually wanted abortions to occur more frequently.

  • Chase Olivarius-McAllister

    To #16 – the “different voice:”

    Despite your advertisement, your voice is not different; indeed, I have seldom considered an opinion more ostentatiously unoriginal in both its substantive and aesthetic content.

    This does not bother me; on the issue of abortion, yours is the inevitable expression of a strained intellectual parentage. You are, to your own and at least to my detriment, the progeny of two, irreconcilable, systems of thought: belief in a formally worshiped God, and belief in the Women’s Movement.

    You are trying to solve the abortion debate by refusing to consider the implications of what you say, and, furthermore and more problematically, by not thinking. This is how you can speak of a “middle ground.”

    Make no mistake: there isn’t a middle. You cannot have both God and Women, you cannot treat one well while respecting the other in their own terms. If you think that human life begins at the moment that semen is ejaculated into a vagina, in which a sperm penetrates an egg: you are and should feel free to call yourself “pro-life.” And you should not be hesitant in saying that, as you see it, aborting a fetus is equivalent to killing a human life.

    If you think differently, about the meaning and beginning of humanity I mean, you may be “pro-choice.”

    But that is the crux of it: those terms, “pro-life” and “pro-choice,” are curious, obvious, and only, euphemisms to describe whether or not one believes that abortion should be criminal or legal.

    You do have to actually decide what you think about that. The questions of when life begins, of what makes us human, and of what makes humanity valuable, are implicated. I am passionately “pro-choice.” I think that abortion is life saving, the basis of Western wealth in particularly the late twentieth century, and the true and irrefutable premise of women’s expanding equality. I am not scared of calling it a miracle.

    I have learned to expect that people who are “pro-life” and those who are “pro-choice” will accuse each other of harrowing crimes. Killing babies, for instance; or of preferring dead women to live ones.

    Whilst your tale of a lost “middle ground” is imaginary, I am sure that many members of both the “pro-choice” and “pro-life” factions would agree that your unwillingness to consider, remember, and weigh the arguments that both sides, over the centuries, have made is more terrifying than our extremism.

  • ES’11

    Great column, really enjoyed it.

  • @17

    Who said anything about God? I don’t think #16 did.

    As a pro-life atheist, I take offense at both your hubris and narrow-mindedness. Your argument is reductionist to the extreme and full of stereotypes.

    No middle ground? Then clearly you do not believe in peace. You, friend, are blinded by ideology, and THAT is what’s scary.

  • Egalitarian

    To #17: I am shocked by the way that you view the issue of God and abortion. You sound like a medieval pope: The Catholic view is the only view that anyone could ever believe that God would support. In Judaism, we do not believe that life begins at conception. In the Talmud, a source of rabbinic interpretation, it is stated that a fetus is considered to be the equivalent of water during the first semester, part of the mother’s body during the second trimester, and a separate person during the third trimester. In circumstances where the mother cannot carry the child, an abortion is not merely permitted but commanded! In circumstances where the mother’s life is not endangered, an abortion is not sanctioned by Judaism. And I’m sure that the Jewish view isn’t the only view that’s different from the Catholic view. Different people believe different things about God, and not everyone’s belief necessary matches exactly with the doctrines of an established religion.

  • @ 17

    What in the world. Get your life together. Read the Bible!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • ES10

    Nice article, Kathryn. I dig. Keep it up.