Top 10 Ways to Talk About Abortion Without Saying the Word

Posted at 5:00 AM Apr 28, 2010

By Naomi Zeveloff


Abortion is a toughie. Sure, it can be a difficult decision for some women. But the real headache with abortion is how to talk about it. The most politically contested medical procedure of all time, abortion is shrouded by coded language. If you're for legal abortion, you're actually pro-choice. And if you're anti, somehow you're still a pro. Pro-life, that is. It's as if one side says the word and its hand is forever tipped. Oh. Abortion? That's what you meant?!

Luckily, pop culture has long used euphemisms to talk about abortion, so we have no shortage of substitutions. In today's top 10 list, we look to books and movies to tell us the best ways to talk about the procedure without having to say the a-word.


10. "And is he taking care of all eventualities?"

In J.M. Coetzee's 1999 novel Disgrace, Professor David Lurie asks his daughter Lucy if a doctor gave her an abortion after she was raped. Lucy didn't go through with it, deciding to bear the child instead.

9. "It's your day!"

In the movie Greenberg, which came out this year, grouchy Roger Greenberg accompanies his on-again, off-again fling Florence Marr to the hospital to abort another man's child. Greenberg tries to cheer her with the above statement. 

8. "Was that what my money paid for?"

In 1987's Dirty Dancing, Frances "Baby" Houseman secures money from her unwitting father to pay for an abortion for Penny Johnson, a dancer at the Catskill resort who is impregnated by a womanizing waiter. In this scene, Houseman's father questions her about it.


7. "Something unholy and evil."

In the Godfather II, which came out in 1974, Kay Corleone tells her husband and crime boss Michael Corleone that she did a bad thing--abort his son--because she didn't want to bring a male heir into the mob life. Kay and Michael get divorced.

6. "It was a hard decision."

In the 2000 movie High Fidelity, Rob Gordon reflects on his ex-girlfriend Laura's decision to terminate her pregnancy without his input after she found out that Rob cheated on her. This, he says, contributed to their break-up.


emonxie said:

Quite the list to stir up mixed emotional response and thoughtful internal deliberation. Which ones seem caddy, cavalier, or contrived? Which seem apt, sensitive, or ironic? Where else has pregnancy been debated, contested, thwarted? The tea in Waterland for example, or the coat hanger anecdote / scene in Our Bodies, Our Selves. What are the agendas behind the plots, wordings, passages? Pro-life, or David Cross jokes about the difficulties convincing a girlfriend to have her 3rd abortion?

Great list, makes me think & reflect & question, always a challenge.


Naomi Zeveloff said:

Thanks for commenting, emonxie. This list is by no means exhaustive. There are many pop culture references to abortion that I left out. I think it's worth noting, though, that the only film I mentioned in which the woman chooses abortion and nothing bad happens to her is--oddly enough--Greenberg. In it, Greta Gerwig's character has an abortion, feels kinda sluggish, but goes on with her life and continues her awkward relationship with Greenberg, who ultimately redeems himself because he supports her through the procedure. In Revolutionary Road, April dies from her abortion. In High Fidelity, Laura's abortion is a symptom of her deceitful relationship with Rob. In The Godfather II, Kay sees her abortion as a necessary evil to stop the Corleone violence. And, in Dirty Dancing, Penny gets sick and then kind of disappears. On the other hand, many of the characters that choose to carry to term are rewarded for it.

flmun said:

Naomi, ITAWTC.

Media will almost universally portray women who carry unwanted pregnancies to term and then raise them as highly fulfilled loving people. I can't recall off-hand a mainstream example of an unwanted pregnancy growing into a truly unwanted child -- suffering from emotional and physical neglect, often more than one type of abuse, and a bleak future.

bobby said:

Continuing one's awkward relationship with Greenberg might be considered something bad happening to... one. That guy was a jerk. Good list. Makes me want to come up with more!

Naomi Zeveloff said:

Yeah, Bobby, add your own! I know I missed many. Can anyone find a reference to the ill-fated abortion in The Last King of Scotland? That was one that almost made the list.

© 2014 Village Voice Media Holdings, LLC. All Rights Reserved. | Privacy Policy