Quick: what do Kourtney Kardashian and President Obama have in common? It’s not just their questionable fashion sense. No, both of them have recently been pressured out of choosing abortion before they could even properly consider it.
You may have heard that the young reality star is unexpectedly pregnant. But did you know why she’s decided to have the baby? "My doctor told me there is nothing you will ever regret about having the baby, but he was like, ‘You may regret not having the baby.’" reported Kardashian to People magazine. Because who ever regrets becoming responsible for an entire person when a) they had in no way been planning on it and b) they could have had a routine surgical procedure instead? And while Kourtney’s doc may have been working overtime on the Guilt Train, her boyfriend had already laid enough groundwork ahead of time that he didn’t have to lift a finger. Says Kourtney: "I think if I had said I’m not going to keep it, I really think he would have pushed me into keeping it." What every girl wants — a partner who so obviously doesn’t respect her bodily autonomy, he doesn’t even have to bother saying so.
At least Kardashian’s rich. She can afford the best care for her kid even if her babydaddy bails, and, if she had actually been allowed to choose an decided to have an abortion, she certainly could have afforded one. Not so for many, many American women, for whom abortion is literally not an option if their insurance doesn’t cover it – or if they don’t have insurance at all. That’s why the Kardashian family doctor isn’t winning my Enemy of Autonomy award this week. That honor, sadly, goes to President Obama, who last week told Katie Couric, "I think we also have a tradition of, in this town, historically, of not financing abortions as part of government funded health care. Rather than wade into that issue at this point, I think that it’s appropriate for us to figure out how to just deliver on the cost savings, and not get distracted by the abortion debate at this station."
In other words, forcing women to give birth because they’re poor and have no other options is a tradition in this country (too true), and trying to change that tradition would be a distraction. Didn’t we also have, until recently, a tradition of having only white men as President?
Which brings me to another American tradition – the tradition of erasing abortion from our TV and movies.
The recent refusal by Fox to air an episode of Family Guy b/c it dealt with the dreaded a-word is just the latest in a long history of elisions (and mind you, Fox never blinks an eye when Family Guy makes rape jokes on the regular, but abortion? That’s going TOO FAR.). Whether the subject is avoided because the pregnant character miscarries before she can abort (Grey’s Anatomy), decides against abortion — often without ever uttering the word (Juno, Army Wives, The Secret Life of the American Teenager, Sex and the City, The O.C., ), or gets an abortion but gets killed off afterward (Jack & Bobby), the message is clear – when it comes to abortion, good girls not only don’t do it, they don’t even speak of it. The movie Knocked Up even invented the word "shmashmortion" so the characters could discuss the option at all – and as we all know, in the end, Katherine Heigl’s driven career woman oh-so-realistically decided to keep the baby and co-parent with her schlub of a one-night-stand instead of doing that.
This silence isn’t just making for lame euphemisms and cringe-worthy TV. It’s sending the message that abortion — a procedure that nearly half of all U.S. women will have in their lifetimes — is so controversial, so utterly transgressive, that we dare not even speak of it. (Josh Schwartz, creator of The O.C., said exactly that when explaining to the New York Times why he left the word out of his scripts: "The show would sink under the weight of it.”) It’s enabling Kourtney Kardashian’s boyfriend and doctor – and people just like them across the country – to make sure that sex always has "consequences" for women, so that we remain afraid of it and can be controlled by that fear. It’s providing cover for politicians (including, unfortunately, our current President) who are more concerned about their approval ratings than women’s lives. It’s forcing girls and women to give birth to children against their will, making it harder for poor families to support themselves, and often putting women’s health at risk.
Fox execs have admitted that they yanked the episode out of fear of an advertiser backlash. Perhaps next time a show gives abortion the silent treatment, we should show them what an advertiser backlash really looks like.