Is Knocked Up more “pro-life” than Juno?

Nearly three months ago, I began my review of Juno by charting a progression across three of last year’s films — Waitress, Knocked Up and Juno — in which the protagonists get progressively younger while the characters’ reasons for keeping their babies get increasingly, for lack of a better word, “pro-life”. The protagonist in Waitress barely gives abortion a second’s thought; in Knocked Up, friends and relatives tell the protagonist to get an abortion, but for no explicitly articulated reason, she decides against it; and in Juno, the protagonist actually goes to an abortion clinic, fully intending to terminate her pregnancy, but she encounters a pro-life activist outside who plays no small part in changing the protagonist’s mind.

Today, however, a thought occurred to me, and before I can say what it was, I have to address a certain terminological issue. Many pro-lifers are prone to saying that pro-choice advocates are “pro-abortion”, but I don’t think that is entirely fair, nor do I think it is accurate; people can grant others the right to make all sorts of choices in life, with regard to food and drink and drugs and sexual practices and, yes, even abortion, without necessarily approving of the specific choices that are made. But it would also be erroneous to say, as some people do in defense of the pro-choicers, that no one is ever “pro-abortion”.

For an example of what a “pro-abortion” person might look like, we need only turn to Knocked Up and the scenes in which Katherine Heigl’s mother and one of Seth Rogen’s friends both tell the prospective parents to get rid of the baby. These secondary characters do not simply respect the right of Heigl or even Rogen to “choose” what they should do; instead, they passionately and insistently advocate a particular choice — and no, they do not advocate choosing life. So it is all the more remarkable when Heigl and Rogen choose to keep their baby, because they make that choice in the face of a certain amount of hostility.

The protagonist of Juno, however, never really encounters a “pro-abortion” perspective, at least not that I can recall. She lives in a culture where the right to choose is taken for granted, and where some of her friends casually assume that they can and should get abortions in case they ever become pregnant. But when Juno decides not to get an abortion, everyone who knows her is pretty supportive. You might say that everyone in Juno’s immediate circle of friends and family is truly “pro-choice”, because they let her choose life and they don’t try to talk her out of it.

So, if we’re looking simply at the reasons characters give for keeping their babies, the clarity of Juno may trump the more enigmatic motivations lurking behind the protagonist’s decision in Knocked Up. But if we’re looking at whether the protagonist is choosing life in defiance of social expectations, then Knocked Up may trump Juno.

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  • Peter–

    I’m not sure I would use the words “passionately” or “insistently” to describe the way in which the secondary characters advocate abortion in “Knocked Up.”

    I could just as easily gloss their advice as diffident or half-hearted. (At least in the case of Heigl’s character. Rogen’s buddies are a bit more animated but I don’t recall them being particularly insistent.)

    For what it’s worth–I still think “Knocked Up” is the better film.


  • FWIW, I was thinking mainly of the Jonah Hill character when I wrote “passionately”, and mainly of Heigl’s mother when I wrote “insistently” … but it has been almost nine months since I saw the film, so you may be right, that neither of those words is the most ideal. (Yes, almost nine months. Oh, the irony.)