Juno Misses Chance to Address Abortion Honestly

Juno misrepresents the reality of abortion in America, and of abortion clinics in particular. While there is much about Juno as a witty and promising young person to admire; there is much about Juno as a film to resent and regret.

It is hard to know what takes the cruelest blow in Juno; a very popular 2007 movie a leading film critic insists is "destined to become a classic" (Richard Roeper). First place could go to the Truth, which is really done in – albeit another critic judges the film "a thing of beauty and grace – a perfect movie about responsibility, maturity, and unconditional love." (Robert Wilansky). Second place here is a toss-up between abortion clinics and clinic waiting-room males, both of whom are misrepresented beyond recognition.  

The film's many shortcomings not withstanding, it warrants MUST viewing by all readers of this critique, as it reveals much about what we are up against where mass media treatment is concerned. Indirect in its underlying condemnation of abortion on request, the film is a far more costly blow against abortion rights than anything the anti-abortion crowd could possibly hope for or ever produce – and they are big gainers (at no cost to them) from its sappy popularity.

To be sure, very little time is given to showing an Abortion Clinic – and for that pro-Choice Americans must be grateful. For what is shown comes across as no place you would not want anything to do with. For openers, its parking lot is nearly empty, as if to suggest hardly anyone comes there (only 1,400,000 or so clients a year in recent years). For another, there is only one protester outside, a sweet Asian-American high-school girl, carrying a sign with the standard false picture of a third semester fetus passed off as a first-semester one. She lies to Juno about the likely state of fetal development. ("It has fingernails!"), a lie that takes a toll. One lone demure protester – and this, as a time when clinics in Albuquerque, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and elsewhere are experiencing dangerous and ugly mass protests by impassioned extremists, some of whom the police can barely contain.

Once our heroine gets inside things get worse. She meets an ultra-hip young poseur pretending to be a trained clinic receptionist who barely welcomes Juno. She then publicly questions the girl about intimate matters in less than an empathetic way. As this wasn't bad enough, she volunteers details about the sexual appetite of her boy friend, and leaves Juno more confused and unsettled than ever. 

Having thus set an unappealing stage, the camera next surveys hapless stereotypes the film-makers want America to believe are the major types found in a typical clinic waiting room. The only people shown are female (though perhaps 50 percent of actual clients have a male accompanying them). All of the women appear doleful, though many actual clients are relieved to have this medical option. All appear isolated, though many actual clients come with close and supportive friends. Little wonder that a panicked Juno is next seen energetically running away from the Clinic, much to the delight of the lone protestor who shouts after her – "Your baby has fingernails!"

Where abortion clinic waiting room males are concerned, mis-representation is much the same. First, none are shown, though as many as 600,000 or more guys find themselves in the role annually (25 percent of whom have been there more than once). Second, although a scene shows a high school teacher demonstrating to a sex education class how a condom is rolled down a stage-prop (the standard banana), Juno's boy friend is pictured as utterly naïve about contraception (the nearly 3,200 such males who have completed a survey for me want to know more about it, but do not seem as anywhere ignorant as the film character).

On three scores, however, the film stumbles, which is to say, it actually gets something right: First, it has the boy quickly consent to Juno's pro-abortion decision, only to wonder later who really made the decision? He could not recall being asked his view before the matter seemed to get resolved (nearly 4 in 5 males tell me this is their experience, though close to 90 percent support the abortion). Second, Juno does not invite him to go with her to the clinic (15 percent of women never tell their sex partner before the abortion, and over 50 percent are accompanied by another female). Third, the boy does not discuss his situation with anyone (nor did my 3,000-plus male respondents, though a small minority spoke briefly with clinic staffers while the abortion was occurring).

Which is to say, clinic waiting room males need a lot more care, attention, and contraception education than hinted at in this film … if, that is, we are to soon reduce the rate of ill-timed and unwanted pregnancies. (I plan with Pittsburgh area Clinic Director Claire Keyes to soon discuss the case for reform here in another RH essay).

This movie, allegedly a "marvelously offbeat comedy, which is sheer joy from beginning to end" (Critic Dennis Dermody), had an opportunity to treat abortion or pregnancy honestly, and it did not. A critic would have you believe you will "laugh deeply" (Peter Travers). I hope you will instead sigh deeply, and get angry at irresponsible mass media types that with this film have set back the cause of abortion on request and the assumption of male responsibilities in the matter. While there is much to admire about Juno as a witty and promising young person, there is much about Juno as a film to resent and regret.