When I sat down to watch Unpregnant, I was fully prepared for a laugh-out-loud buddy comedy packed with salient points about anti-abortion policy along with the usual road trip hijinks. That’s what you get from the trailer, after all.
Unpregnant, streaming on HBO Max starting today, knocks that whole situation out of the park, right up to the moment Veronica (Haley Lu Richardson) and Bailey (Barbie Ferreira) pull up to the Albuquerque abortion clinic in an old stretch limousine, parting a sea of protesters.
What I didn’t expect was a sneaky PSA illustrating the warning signs of a potentially abusive relationship.
Let’s look at the list, shall we? (Many, many spoilers abound).
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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Kevin doesn’t tell Veronica about the condom breaking
Veronica meets Kevin (Alex MacNicoll) for dinner to break the news of her pregnancy (after she’s already tried to contact her local clinic and tried to secure a ride to Albuquerque) and is suspicious when he has almost no reaction—and an engagement ring in his pocket.
At this point, you can kind of understand Kevin’s side. He noticed that the condom had broken, but he didn’t want to stress her out even more. He thought it would probably be fine—after all, “Do you know how hard it is to get pregnant? It is like, so hard …”
That level of problem avoidance is a pretty realistic reaction for a teenager finding out a condom broke, but this scene is the first red flag. And, as Veronica points out, “I literally could have taken the morning-after pill. I could have avoided this whole entire situation.”
By not telling Veronica about the condom breaking, Kevin has thrown her into a political and personal quagmire—she either has to carry the fetus to term or get an abortion. He chooses not to tell her about their birth control method failing and, in doing so, basically says, “Hey, it’s fine, because now she’ll have to stay with me.”
That’s classic reproductive coercion.
Kevin asks Veronica out until she agreesAt the beginning of their road trip, Bailey mocks Kevin, and so Veronica launches into a defense of Kevin’s sweetness. He’s uncomplicated. He volunteers with puppies and he asked her out “literally every day for a full month until [she] said yes.” He even stood outside her bedroom window all night one time!
All of Kevin’s romantic moves are pulled from ‘80s movies, which is part of the problem. Those scenes that are supposed to make you swoon aren’t real representations of healthy relationships or dating habits.
Bailey isn’t afraid to call that out, either. “You know, Say Anything made that seem cute, but it’s called stalking. Time’s Up and all that; that dude’s an actual stalker.”
Yes, Bailey! Yes, he is! Which leads me to my next point.
Kevin stalks Veronica to a pawnshop
When Kevin shows up just after Veronica and Bailey arrive, you immediately go, “Uh oh.”
Kevin openly admits to tracking Veronica’s location to find her, and under her breath, Bailey tells Veronica she should probably turn off her Find My Friends app. Bailey is the lesson-sharer for most of this film, so let this be a lesson in digital privacy to all of us: Turn off your Find My Friends app. And your Snap Map. Also, like, all of the location services that aren’t essential.
For many young people, though, location services are ubiquitous. You might not think twice about activating that app or tagging your location on Instagram while you’re still at that place. Digital security is just one aspect of safety, but right now, it’s a pretty important one.
This scene raises the question, “How many other times has Kevin done this and Veronica didn’t know?” Stalking is a public health problem, one that isn’t given as much attention as it deserves. It’s also another big red flag for an unhealthy relationship.
Kevin downplays Veronica’s aspirations
Kevin isn’t just a stalker—he’s a jackass, too!
His only aim is to get Veronica to stay close to him, stay with him, marry him—spend her life with him. And when she fairly says, “Kevin, we have so much life ahead of us,” he interrupts with “What life, Veronica? You’re going off to Brown.”
Kevin’s big thing is that Veronica is going to Brown while he is staying in Missouri, where he feels he will no longer have a life. He even imagines Veronica’s life at college will be basically meaningless because he (and his dirt bikes) won’t be there with her and because they won’t have this baby.
The lesson: You deserve a partner who supports your ambitions, not one who curtails them.
Then he stalks her again to the clinic
Veronica never tells him where she’s going to get the abortion—but the kidnapping anti-abortion crusaders told Kevin exactly where to go, of course. (If you’re wondering how the heck we got here, you should watch the movie).
You might be thinking to yourself, “Well, he showed up, so it shows he cares!” No. Kevin still only cares about control, and this scene emphasizes that.
Kevin has one rapidly delivered line that could be easily missed:, “Veronica! I thought I was too late. I really need to talk to you.”
Maybe he means too late to apologize. Maybe he means too late for the post-abortion breakfast he had planned. I think he means he’s too late to put on a performance to try to win Veronica back. But hey, maybe I’m cynical.
He implies that getting an abortion makes Veronica not girlfriend material
Kevin says he understands that Veronica will get an abortion and that he can’t stop it. Then, he says, “I still want to be with you … even though you’re doing this.” The implication? Getting an abortion should make Veronica unloveable, but Nice Guy Kevin is better than that. He’ll love her anyway!
Kevin was just like, so nice
Veronica would rather not have Kevin at the clinic with her. She has Bailey, and she doesn’t want to deal with his drama. She tells him so, and he replies:
Are you kidding me? I was just like, so nice. … What do you want from me? I apologized like, five times already for the condom thing or whatever. I’m here to comfort YOU in your time of need, and it’s like you don’t even realize I had like, three other things going on this weekend. It’s like you don’t even want to be with me at all.
Being “nice” after putting someone down or physically hurting them is one way abusers get their partners to stay with them. The “honeymoon” period tries to convince the abused partner that things will be better, that their partner will change.
Public “nice” behavior is what makes abusers so insidious—after all, if they came off as violent and controlling right away, we probably wouldn’t develop a relationship with them. Abusers create a chivalrous, kind, level-headed persona.
Veronica doesn’t fall for it. And then …
Kevin gaslights Veronica
After she tells him that she doesn’t want to be with him anymore, Kevin is like, “WHAT WHOA NO.” What he actually says is:
I don’t think you can hear yourself right now, but you sound crazy, OK? Maybe the baby fluids are working their way up to your brain or something like that—I don’t know, I’m not a doctor.
Kevin tries to convince Veronica that she only thinks she wants to break up with him because of the “baby fluids” affecting her brain. The “baby fluids” get me every time, and it’s the comedic relief that you need in a tense scene.
Gaslighting, or convincing someone that something is just happening in their head, is another hallmark of abuse. Veronica doesn’t let this one slide, either. She affirms that in fact, this is what she wants. And that sets Nice Guy Kevin off on his next desperate attempt for control.
Kevin tries to blackmail VeronicaThings were already wild, but if you were like, “Ugh, Cassandra, I think you’re being a little too dramatic about this,” please let me introduce: the blackmail scene.
As soon as Veronica tells Nice Guy Kevin that she is serious about not wanting to be with him anymore, he flips out, grabs his phone, and takes a photo of her in front of the clinic’s check-in desk. Why? “Either we stay together or I tell everybody at school about your top-secret abortion.”
Everything up to this point has either been a red flag for potential future abuse or outright manipulation, itself a form of psychological abuse. Blackmail fits into so many categories for abuse; if the blackmail gets released, it could have psychological, financial, social, and professional consequences for the victim. Indeed, the act of blackmailing—even before any information is ever released—has profound psychological effects.
Throughout Unpregnant, Veronica has worried about how other people perceive her, so when this moment happens, you hold your breath. Blackmail could actually be the one thing that might make her stay with Kevin.
Except it doesn’t work, either. Veronica tells him to do it; she doesn’t care. We watch her weigh the consequences, think about the whole weekend up to this point, and decide that this is a risk she’s willing to take.
She can do it because she has Bailey with her. Bailey has repeatedly pointed out Kevin’s problematic behavior. They’ve rebuilt their friendship. Veronica has someone who she knows is in her corner—so she doesn’t have to be afraid she’ll be alone.
Kevin or no Kevin (please, no Kevin), Veronica is going to get her abortion. And because she has support, she is going to be OK.