Reproduction & Abortion Week: October Baby

Movie poster for October Baby
This guest review by Erin Fenner originally appeared at Trust Women and is republished with the author’s permission.


This is the second part of a two-part series where I examined first how abortion has been portrayed in contemporary films, and in this post how October Baby addresses it.

What October Baby lacks for in quality, it makes up for in heavy handedness. The stiff acting and bland writing would normally just make October Baby a dull movie. But, coupled with ignorance and surprisingly good sales – $1.7 million in its first weekend – it also poses a threat to the narrative around choice by pushing a misleading and deceptive message about abortion.

The protagonist of October Baby is a college-aged woman, Hannah, who realizes she is adopted and the result of a failed late-term abortion. Her doctor speculates that this late-term abortion attempt is the cause of her health problems such as her bad hip and asthma.

Hannah proceeds to go on a trying-to-be-quirky but actually maudlin coming-of-age road trip to find her biological mother. The trip is packed full of slow-motion crying scenes and temper tantrums.

Of course a person has license to be wrought after learning she was adopted at the age of 19 and her parents have kept it a secret all that time. But, Hannah is downright infantile – reflecting the GOP’s seeming perception that women are children that need to be watched over. Hannah regularly stomps off from mild disputes with arms crossed and falsetto whimpers, while the men in her life level reasonable concerns in even tones. The girl literally pouts in her father’s car while he and her romantic interest, Jason, have an argument about her future.

Can I point out again that this is a 19-year-old college student? Yet her father spends most of the movie telling her friends how they are allowed, or rather not allowed, to behave around Hannah.

I haven’t even gotten to how abortion is directly discussed in the movie. But, how women are treated and men are elevated to the status of patriarch and protector is what the choice debate is all about. GOP leaders don’t think women can make choices for themselves and that they need to be protected – not just from spooky outside forces – but from themselves. Jason is always there to provide a condescending pat on the head. What more could a dopey girl want in a man? Certainly not someone who wants an egalitarian relationship not dictated by archaic standards. (Spoilers: Jason finally goes on a giggly date with Hannah because her patriarch called him and said the two should get together. So many gals love it when their parents set up their dates for them, right? No need to be an autonomous individual then.)

To the issue of abortion!

On her road trip, after getting out of being arrested by pulling that notorious “I’m the result of a failed late-term-abortion” card, a cop tells Hannah that while searching for her mother she should “hate the crime, not the criminal.” Sure, the guy is speaking somewhat metaphorically, but coming from a cop it sure makes abortion sound like a crime. Which, may I remind you Red States of the USA, it is not!

A scene that is supposed to be emotionally pivotal occurs when Hannah meets a nurse who was present during her abortion attempt/birth. Cue the crying montage! Cut to nurse weeping alone in her cheap apartment. Cut to Jason lurking protectively outside the complex. Cut to Hannah tearing up the card with her bio-mother’s phone number, before cutting to a scene where she stares intently at the poorly taped up card.

But, back to the scene prior to crying: the nurse relays that she was made to do horrible things at the clinic she worked at for a doctor who had been the recipient of threats of violence. She tells Hannah that her biological mother was a woman who wanted to get an education and insinuated she got the abortion at 24 weeks because of convenience. Less than two percent of abortions happen after 20 weeks. And, late-term abortions are not doled out casually. In most states there needs to be threat to life and health of the mother, or the fetus needs to be non-viable for a late-term abortion to be legally performed.

The nurse wraps up about the bio-mom by saying that she did get that education and career after all. And, we in the audience are supposed to bellow: At what cost? This made my eyes roll so loud that I got “shhhd” by other audience members. Ok my eye-rolling didn’t get shushed, but it seemed plausible.

I counter that straw man (big ole’ patriarchal dominating straw man by the way) with facts. Women get abortions – regardless of the laws on the books, and women are safer when abortion is legal. (So, that should make the paternalistic women-protecting GOP happy, right?) About 30 percent of women will get an abortion before the age of 45. And, in countries where abortion is illegal and harder to obtain, women get them at higher rates and experience greater risk to their health than where abortion is legal. As mentioned earlier, women don’t get late-term abortions because they are silly fickle things who don’t have a solid man to help them make up their minds. Women get later abortions because their health is threatened or the fetus isn’t viable. Instead of insinuating that abortion is criminal, we should be making sure the procedure is accessible at an earlier stage of pregnancy and safer at later stages of pregnancy when women do have to make that difficult decision.

October Baby was produced and supported with funding from evangelical groups like Focus on the Family. The directors, brothers Andrew and Jon Erwin, said that this wasn’t meant to be a political movie, but rather intended to inspire thoughtful discussion. But, in their false representation of abortion they’re amplifying fear rather than appealing to viewers’ higher cognitive reasoning.

Despite their stated purpose, the directors are playing the same simplistic game the GOP has been playing in trying to reduce a complicated issue down to fear tactics and misplaced sentimentality.

Erin Fenner is a legislative intern with Trust Women: working for the reproductive rights of women in conservative Midwestern states by researching and tracking bills. I also write for the Trust Women blog and help manage their social media networks. She graduated from the University of Idaho with a B.S. in Journalism.