Obvious Child: when it comes to abortion, choice would be a fine thing

Obvious Child is not an ‘abortion comedy’ but a movie about a woman choosing to have an abortion in an area where women have access to abortion services. And it is quite funny, because life is funny. Director Gillian Robespierre talks about not judging people

Fri, Aug 29, 2014, 10:39

As this nation sets in for another poisonous debate on the subject of abortion – a problem stubbornly resistant to lazy “Irish solutions” – we welcome an impressive film on the subject. Those content with the grim status quo may fear some sober documentary or heart-rending drama arguing the pro-choice case.

Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Girl is neither of those things. It’s something much more dangerous: a romantic comedy that treats the protagonist’s termination with the lightest of touches throughout. Abortion is not an “issue” in Robespierre’s film. Jenny Slate plays a stand-up comic who, recently dumped, discovers that she is pregnant after a one-night stand. She takes the matter seriously, but makes her decision quickly and without too much fuss. Life goes on as before. Nobody has any sort of nervous breakdown.

“That’s right. She makes her decision very swiftly and without shame,” Robespierre says. “But it’s still not a light decision. She’s allowed to feel emotions. You can lift the stigma and still allow people to have emotions about it. But it’s personal.”

A committed New Yorker, raised in merry Bohemian circumstances, Robespierre never intended her first feature to be any sort of campaigning film. Indeed, if unleashed in the US during the 1970s, Obvious Child wouldn’t have seemed like any such thing (it may very well have been banned here, of course). However, coinciding with the outrage concerning the denial of a termination to a raped woman, the Irish release is an uncannily timely affair. Is Robespierre aware of what’s going on?

“Well, I know that abortion is legal in Ireland. Right?” she says.

Now there’s a question.

Robespierre is not in a position to comment on the specifics of the Irish situation. But she can see faint parallels with the situation in much of the United States. Obvious Child takes place in and around proudly liberated Brooklyn. There are other places.

“Well yeah. It is really scary actually,” she says. “In the United States, there are still so many restrictions to abortion. If she was in Texas, she wouldn’t have been able to get an abortion like in our film. In Texas, she’d have to wait 72 hours and the health centre may have been closed down. The same is true in Utah, Wisconsin, Florida. The list goes on. These restrictions come in under the guise of patient safety. But it’s really about restricting a woman’s right to choose.”

So many conversations that seemed to have ended in the 1970s have undergone unwelcome disinterment over the past decade or so. It’s not all bad news. The western world is becoming more tolerant as regards gay issues. But the US seems to have moved backwards in its approach to women’s reproductive rights. Forty years ago, it was generally accepted – following the ruling in Roe versus Wade – that a women’s right to choose had been established in law. A decade-and-a-half into the new century, the Republican Party looks to have been annexed by the pro-life lobby.

Meanwhile, there are racial disturbances in Missouri and education boards are attempting to stop teachers from mentioning evolution.

Back to haunt us “Yeah, I think a lot of things that we thought were over have come back to haunt us,” Robespierre says. “With civil rights and women’s rights, we thought we’d solved these things. Now they are back on the table. Things are not going well. My parents walked on Washington to address these issues.”

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