How Movies Have Portrayed Abortion Since 1916
Abortion is a sensitive subject.
It’s a sensitive subject to bring up at the dinner table with your conservative family and it’s a sensitive subject for a movie to be about.
Even though the future of Roe v. Wade may look murky, there is one silver lining about abortion: the way its depicted in movies today is significantly less fucked up than it was in 1916.
Back in the first half of the 20th century, most abortion movies had the same plot: a woman gets knocked up, gets an abortion, and then dies.
The moral was clear: abortions are wrong and if you get them the Lord will punish you.
While there were always exceptions, things really began to change in the 1950s as abortion stories became more nuanced and less slut shamey.
The future of legal abortion may be unclear, but even though there are plenty of conservative sticks-in-the-mud out there, public opinion about abortion has changed for the better — and the proof is in these movies, first compiled by the blog Penny Lane.
Where Are My Children? — 1916
The film centers around the prosecution of a physician who accidentally killed somebody while performing an illegal abortion. To make matters even worse, the district attorney finds out his wife probably got an abortion, and she got abortions for all of her friends too.
A sad time was had by all and the film was even banned in Pennsylvania because people thought it would probs-def corrupt the youth.
The Road to Ruin — 1928
“The Road to Ruin” is a prime example of textbook slut shaming.
The movie follows a 16-year-girl named Sally who lives in New York City, starts smoking and drinking, and before you know it she’s having sex with daddies, getting arrested for playing strip poker, and them boom, she gets pregnant and dies.
Moral of the story is? 1928 was not a great time to be a woman.
Ann Vickers — 1933
Out of all the early abortion movies, “Ann Vickers” is one of the most aspirational.
Basically, this broad named Ann falls in love with an officer, only he turns out not to a gentlemen and leaves her high and dry before she can tell him she’s preggo.
Only instead of letting herself get saddled with a baby she doesn’t want, Ann gets an abortion and then becomes a social worker!
Go, Ann Vickers!
Men in White — 1934
Okay, this one is pretty cool because old Hollywood hottie Clark Gable is in it, playing a knight in shining armor who help save the life of a nurse who got a botched back-alley abortion.
Detective Story — 1951
Now this story is relationship goals right here.
After this detective learns his wife had a back-alley abortion that made her sterile back in the day he does everything in his capacity to lock up the crook who did it.
A Place in the Sun — 1951
Okay, so this movie is kind of regressive in terms of abortion.
Allow me to explain.
This dude knocks up his girlfriend, she wants to get an abortion, he’s like, “nah,” and then he legit kills her so he doesn’t have to get saddled with it.
You’ve Ruined Me, Eddie! — 1960
This is a classic story of rich girl goes slumming, meets a guy named Eddie, gets pregnant and then is like, “uh, so now I gotta be with this scrub for the rest of my life? NO THANK YOU!”
She wants to get an abortion, Eddie wants her to keep it, chaos ensues and the movie ends when she straight up kills him.
But hey, on the bright side, we’re pretty sure she gets her abortion in the end!
The Shame of Patty Smith — 1962
After getting raped, Patty realizes she’s pregnant and for the rest of the film she and her BFF Mary go hunting for doctors who’ll abort her fetus.
Let’s just say the story doesn’t end up well for her.
The Pumpkin Eater — 1964
So dunno why this film is called “The Pumpkin Eater” but it’s about a woman named Jo who leaves her husband and five kids for a writer named Jack.
He gets her pregnant, demands she gets an abortion and a sterilization, she does, and somehow their marriage ends up going down the toilet anyway.
Couldn’t imagine why.
Guys who order you around like that normally make FANTASTIC life partners.
Alfie — 1966
All you need to know is Alfie gets ass easier than Don Draper and James Bond combined and one of the girls he beds gets preggo, so he gets her an illegal abortion and then feels bad about it. But don’t worry, he also feels bad for the woman who got it so he’s not a complete asshat.
Cabaret — 1972
Sally Bowles is chill af.
She gets an abortion like it’s no big deal even tho her part-time bf is like, please don’t.
Black Christmas — 1974
Okay, y’all, this one is bad.
The premise is simple.
A psychopath runs around murdering girls in a sorority house because one of them got an abortion and he’s apparently a conservative piece of shit.
And you best believe she dies at the end.
Gotta love horror movie morality.
The Choice — 1981
But for every “Black Christmas” our there, there’s a heart-warming generational tale about abortions.
In “The Choice,” a young college girl realizes she’s pregnant, turns to her mother for advice, and her mother ends up telling her all about how once upon a time she got an abortion. Mother daughter bonding at its finest.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High — 1982
“Fast Times” is a classic tale about why tf you shouldn’t fuck sleazy older guys without a condom.
One of the main characters hooks up with an older scrub, gets pregnant, and then after they decide together she should get an abortion, the older guy promises he’ll help pay for it and give her a ride to the clinic.
Only he doesn’t do either of those things because he’s a scrub.
So she goes and gets an abortion by herself and then spray paints “little prick” on his car and locker, which seems pretty fair to us.
Dirty Dancing — 1988
If you haven’t seen Dirty Dancing — in which case, add it to the top of your watch list immediately — this dancer gets knocked up by a waiter but doesn’t have the money to pay for an abortion.
So the main character, Baby — as in “nobody puts Baby in a corner” Baby — borrows money from her dad to pay for the abortion and then starts dancing in her place so the dancer doesn’t have to forfeit her salary.
Women helping other women?
It can be a rarity in film, so savor it.
The Suckling — 1990
They don’t make horror movies like this anymore.
“The Suckling” is about what happens when a fetus gets aborted in a whorehouse, gets exposed to toxic waste, stops being dead and starts murdering everybody around. Except for the woman whose womb it came from.
The fetus spares her and instead magically jumps back into her womb, turns her into a zombie, and they all live happily ever after.
A Private Matter — 1994
This made for HBO movie tells the based on a true story of Sherri Finkbine, who gets pregnant but realizes a drug she’s taking will probs-def cause major birth defects. So, she decides she wants to get an abortion but literally nobody in the US will give her one so she has to fly out of the country.
If These Walls Could Talk — 1996
HBO was really about the abortion beat in the mid 1990s because two years later they made ANOTHER movie about abortion.
“If These Walls Could Talk” is a trilogy of stories who all get pregnant, all feel conflicted about what to do, but all decide to get one anyway.
The Cider House Rules — 1999
“The Cider House Rules” is a story about a young Tobey Maguire coming to terms with the fact that abortion is okay.
He grows up as an orphanage where the main doctor in charge performs abortion on the side — and takes hits of anesthesia drugs to boot.
Anyway, Tobey’s uptight about the whole thing, leaves the orphanage and has his own personal odyssey and then what do you know, he meets a farmworker who got pregnant BY HER ACTUAL FATHER, and decides, maybe abortion isn’t so bad anymore.
Just before the credits roll, Tobey rolls up his sleeves and preforms the abortion himself, and lo and behold, a man is born.
Sacrifice — 2000
Have you ever wondered what would happen if you were a convicted bank robber who broke out of prison and then learned your daughter had recently been killed by a serial killer who targets women who’ve had abortions?
If so, boy do I have a movie for you!
Our Song — 2000
Finally, an abortion movie that takes place where I live! Crown Heights, Brooklyn!
While three high school friends ask themselves, “will we all be friends for life or forget each other in the middle of college,” a girl named Maria reveals she’s pregnant and then learns that once upon a time her BFF Lanisha, played by a young Kerry Washington, was too. Only then Lanisha stopped being pregnant because she got an abortion. Crazy how life works, huh?
Kill Bill: Vol 1 —2003
This isn’t a movie about abortion, but before Uma Thurman’s character got put into a coma, she was pregnant, and then when she wakes up, she’s not anymore.
You do the math.
Vera Drake — 2004
Vera Drake is an American hero, except for the fact she’s not American.
Vera is a working-class hero in 1950s England who gives people abortions because it’s the right thing to do. The film won a lot of Oscars and made a bunch of people pissed, so you know it’s the real deal.
Coach Carter — 2015
So you know how sometimes boys don’t want you to get an abortion even though you’re in high school and have dreams?
THIS IS ONE OF THOSE STORIES!
This kid’s girlfriend gets pregnant, he says you can’t have an abortion, and she’s like, joke’s on you because I already had it.
He’s pissed at first, but then he talks to his Coach — played by Samuel L Jackson — and in the end he realizes it was her body her choice and their love goes on.
Obvious Child — 2014
Out of all of these abortion movies, “Obvious Child” is the most well-rounded, realistic abortion story out there.
It follows a comic who gets dumped, fucks a rando, realizes she’s pregnant and schedules an abortion for Valentine’s Day while casually continuing to live her life and fall in love, because believe it or not, life doesn’t stop once you decide to get an abortion.
Grandma — 2016
Grandmas are great about paying for stuff, and in “Grandma” a teenager gets her radical lesbian poet grandma to pay for hers.
Thanks, Grandma. A happy ending for all of us.
[H/T Penny Lane]