So close yet so far: abortion in “The Pregnancy Pact”

Yes, I watched premiere of The Pregnancy Pact on Lifetime, the network for women who like romance novels and eat yogurt.  I heard about The Pregnancy Pact because I watch Project Runway, which is now hosted on Lifetime (why, Bravo, why?) and am thus exposed to ads for Lifetime programming.  The Pregnancy Pact is based on the story of an alleged “pregnancy pact”  in Gloucester, MA, in which a group of pregnant teenage girls were thought to have made a pact to get pregnant together, on purpose.  This allegation turned out to be false.  The truth was that the pregnancies were accidental; the “pact” was their promise to raise their babies together.  I don’t  imagine many people will find a spoiler alert necessary for such a formulaic and predictable (Lifetime!) movie, but just in case, know that I will be revealing plot points in this post.

I was intrigued by the movie because I am generally interested in representations of teen pregnancy in pop culture, but also because of the controversy generated over the fact that the movie misrepresents what really happened in Gloucester.  In the movie, the girls DO make a pact to get pregnant together, ostensibly because they a) think babies are cute and not that hard to raise, and b) want their boyfriends to have to stay with them forever.  Yes, the old “women are all secretly trying to trap men by getting preggers” tale.  Coincidentally, a new study shows that men are guilty of this as well.  Out of 1,300 teen girls and young women, 25% reported “pregnancy coercion,” while 15% said they’d suffered from “birth control sabotage” from their male partners.  But hell, Lifetime has no problem perpetuating this myth of the baby-crazy, man-trapping woman — or in Lifetime’s case — 15 year old girl.

I was pleased to see that the movie did provide a somewhat nuanced (this is Lifetime, remember) position on birth control.  A scene at a school committee meeting framed both sides of the debate early on.  At the end of the film, both sides seemed to have come to a better understanding of the other.  The abstinence-only mother realizes that even though she does not want her own daughter using birth control, other parents are okay with it and therefore  it should be made available to high school students.  The uber liberal blogger (played by Thora Birch) realizes that teen pregnancy wont be solved by throwing condoms at the problem.  The pro-abstinence folks realize that they need to be more honest (aka sharing their own youthful indescretions) so that kids will feel more comfortable talking to them about their “urges.”  And the pro-condoms side realizes that teen pregnancy prevention needs to include more than just safer sex education; it should also teach young girls about all the fabulous things they can do other than get married and have a baby, like for example, college.

The real problem with The Pregnancy Pact is neither its historical inaccuracy nor its position on contraception; it’s its portrayal of abortion. To my surprise, we learn that the uber liberal blogger character had an abortion when she got pregnant in high school.  I was quite impressed to see a likeable character on mainstream television who had had an abortion.  But then, in a SHOCKING TWIST, she didn’t really have an abortion after all!  She actually gave the baby up for adoption and lied about it to her boyfriend, because he was a super duper sweetheart who wanted her to keep the baby.

Thora Birch’s character admits the truth about her false abortion to her ex-boyfriend (now the VP of the Gloucester High School) in a maddening scene.  She explains that it was too late to get the abortion, so she opted for adoption instead.  The dreamy ex-bf is relieved — a relief the audience is expected to share.  “Oh phew, she didn’t actually have an abortion so now we can like and respect her.”  The ex-bf says something like, “I really didn’t want to believe you were that kind of person,” (that kind of person?) and she replies, “I almost was.”  Is she trying to remind him that she would have had the abortion if she could have, and would still make that choice?  Or,  is she agreeing that all would have been lost if she had gone through with the abortion?  It was unclear to me what that line meant, and I wonder if it was deliberately left ambiguous.

Lifetime came so close to creating a moral, likeable character who chose abortion and did not regret it, but they chickened out.  Is it really so hard to imagine that an American audience (of women) could accept a woman with a history of abortion?  Is it really still a “scarlet A situation” when almost everyone knows a woman who has had an abortion?  Do we really need to pound out the message that it’s only ok to have an abortion if you feel really, really bad about it and totes regret it afterward?  Recently, Heidi Fleiss made headlines when she not only admitted that she had chosen abortion, but also that she was happy with her choice.  (There is a great post about this at Feministing.)  But do we ever see examples of this in mainstream film or television?  Are there any role models teaching young girls that it is okay to have an abortion, and not only that, but it is okay to NOT be racked with guilt or shame about it?

Perhaps it was foolish to hope that Lifetime, a network that capitalizes on old-fashioned tropes and stereotypes about women and what they want out of life (marriage, babies, and melodrama), would be the first to put forth a moral and likeable character who has had an abortion, and doesn’t regret it.  Still, they came close, and I guess that’s something.

Go ahead, watch The Pregnancy Pact.  Just say it’s “research” if anyone asks.  I would love to know what you think.

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16 thoughts on “So close yet so far: abortion in “The Pregnancy Pact”

  1. Hey Idea Girl,
    I was flipping through the channels on Sunday night and happen to stop on Lifetime having noticed the phrase The Pregnancy Pact in the corner of the screen. As predictable as the plot was, I found myself sitting up till midnight following the obvious sequence-which you have noted- reporter who in the end reveals she didn’t have an abortion and the main character, the red haired, pregnant teen, who in the end sees her boyfriend/the father of her child walk pass her to meet his new girfriend, in the final scene, is shown in her childhood bedroom with her baby.Your comment regarding the absence of abortion as an option in this Lifetime distorted narrative based on the 2008 Gloucester, MA “pregnancy pact”is apt. As I was watching the movie, I kept thinking about the reality MTV show Teen Mom, a follow up to 16 and Pregnant.Majority of the teen moms on the show chose to have the baby while one chose an open adoption.A new season of Teen Mom is being advertised and once again, as the title of the show indicates, the focus is on teen moms. I can’t help but think about the message which this show conveys; at least to me, there is an underlaying glorification of the teen mom i.e. getting pregnant at 16 can lead to MTV reality stardom.

  2. Hi Magda, thanks for the comment!

    I agree with you that there is a problem regarding the glorification of teen motherhood, especially when it glosses over the harsh realities of raising a baby when you haven’t even finished high school. I have been thinking about this issue ever since the success of films like Juno and Saved! and I can’t help but wonder if a big part of the problem (besides the obvious controversial nature of saying the “A word” in America) is that having the baby makes a much better plot narrative than not having it.

    In fact, I may just write a post about this. Stay tuned!

    *Edit* I did write a post about this! Here it is!

  3. Omg! I totally agree with you! that part of the movie pissed me off too! and the fact that they didn’t focus more on what to do with the mothers and babies after the fact. They spent too much timing shaming the girls and arguing about abstinence versus condoms and not enough time on the facts and choices of abortion and adoption. movie was a real let down.

  4. I agree 100% with you about this movie’s stance on abortion. When the ex-boyfriend discovers he’s been believing a lie for 12 years, I expected him to be angrier than ever, but no–all is forgiven because she didn’t have (shudder) an abortion.

    It bemuses me that so many so-called modern women enjoy Lifetime programming in general. (Project Runway certainly excepted!)

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  6. Not that there is anything wrong with reading romance novels. I love ’em, the Smart Bitches love ’em, and there is no reason the degrade books written for women, by women, as though they are somehow more more genre-rific than other genre fiction aimed at men.

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  8. Why would the ex-boyfriend be upset to find out she didn’t have an abortion? She’s doing well, has a career and interests, and somewhere out there is a kid making adoptive parents happy? I guess the fact that she had an abortion and didn’t have to go through nine months of absolute agony is better than seeing it through and giving the baby to someone who actually wants and loves it.

    Recently, I haven’t heard much pro-life propaganda. I agree pro-choice believers have been treated harshly, but there’s been such a drastic backlash. I have been persecuted for my pro-life beliefs, even at a “liberal” art school that was supposed to be open-minded and where everyone’s opinion was supposed to be valued. I guess that only counts if you’re “uber liberal” and are afraid to say that something (gasp!) is wrong.

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  10. How many adopted children out there do you think would have been better off if they had been killed in the womb? Choosing life is always the better option for the child. The reason abortion is not celebrated because it is so common that everyone knows it for what it is- a tragedy.

  11. The suicide rate for women who have abortions is something like 6 times the rate for women who carry their babies to term. Maybe abortion isn’t so great for women after all. Maybe there’s something instinctual about wanting to protect your baby that doesn’t originate from the media about abortion.

    • What makes a human different from a cadaver? Is it life? Is it character or soul or personality?
      Unborn don’t have those things. It’s tissue until it pops out and begins to have experiences. Experiences produce brain functions and character and personality. That creates a human.

      Suicide rates skyrocket for all the cultural undesirables. Gay youth have 10 times higher suicide rates than heterosexuals, and 40% of homeless youth were kicked out for being even questioning. The obese commit suicide, and when you add in eating disorders and substance abuse as a method of suicide, it’s downright appalling.

      As every second of your life is documented, every mistake you make will follow you forever. You will always be fat, you will always be a fag, you will never escape that abortion record!
      Unless you die.

      See? Maternal instinct no more, Rebecca.

  12. Lacy, did you write that the unborn don’t have life? Of course they do. Before the abortion they are living and growing, the abortion kills them. And as a mother, I can also assure you that they also have character and personality- I could tell a difference in my children’s personalities from how active they were when they were kicking in my womb. From the first day I could tell things about their personalities, I’m sure those same characteristics were also present the day before they were born.

    All of your examples are of people suffering from unhealthy lifestyles, which might be an indication that abortion is also an unhealthy decision for both the mother and the baby.

    Here’s a recent story on an abortionist you might be interested in:
    http://catholicexchange.com/2010/02/02/126702/

  13. I appreciate all of the comments this post has generated, but I fear that we have stumbled into the “abortion is or is not murder” debate, and frankly this is not the forum for that discussion. I do appreciate your interest, but from now on, I’m only going to allow comments that directly relate to my post on The Pregnancy Pact.

    Full disclosure: I am pro-choice, and this is a pro-choice blog. I invite respectful discussion on the issue from both sides, but only to a point.

    I do not believe that we can ever reach consensus on the issue of whether or not a fetus is a “person.” That is something we each feel for ourselves, and people feel all sorts of ways about this. People also change their minds throughout their lives. If you believe fetuses are people, your arguments will do little to sway those that do not, and vice versa. Frankly, I think that part of the debate is a waste of time. The issue is whether or not women should be allowed to make their own choices, and comments addressing that topic are welcome.

  14. I haven’t had time to read all the comments, so I apologize if this is repetitive.
    Among many other problems I had with this movie (got sucked in while avoiding work…) was the bazaar treatment of sex ed. For a movie dealing with teen understandings of sex and pregnancy how the main teen character could have possibly been responsible for becoming pregnant at all was absurd. As far as we know from the movie she had been sleeping with her boyfriend without condoms (and given lack of access to condoms and zero treatment of other prevention methods such as the pill, I think its safe to assume this was unprotected sex) and he didn’t always pull out. So, that she wasn’t pregnant already was simply chance. Then, as soon as she “decides” to get pregnant she instantly does – and this is all her fault, her plan, and yet she has taken no steps to cause pregnancy beyond what they had already been doing. Hard to imagine a less responsible treatment of the basic mechanics of sex. Once evil man-trapping women decide to get pregnant everything is magically their fault, men apparently have no agency, and women can control the world with their minds. Unless we are expected to take the equally offensive view that she tricked him into not puling out…

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