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What "Juno" Says About Teen Pregnancy, Abortion and Choice

Film Avoids Real Issues and Challenges Faced by Pregnant Teens

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"Juno" star Ellen Page

Kevin Winter / Getty Images
Updated February 25, 2008
Should we be worried about Juno? The sharp-witted comedy starring Ellen Page as a pregnant teen who decides to give her baby up for adoption won writer Diablo Cody an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress, Juno is regarded as a critical and commercial success.

But for one woman who long ago found herself in the same situation as Juno, and has since become a leading advocate of choice for women and girls, the film has very real flaws. Primary among them is the fact that Juno fails to portray the issues surrounding teen pregnancy in an authentic and responsible manner.

Gloria Feldt is an author, activist, and the former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She's written extensively on abortion, choice and reproductive rights, and knows first-hand what it's like to be in Juno's shoes - she was once a teenage mother herself.

Feldt spoke to me about why Juno has her concerned and the ways in which it reflects the nation's conflicted attitudes toward teenage sexuality.

Juno seems like a sweet little movie, but you've observed that it's an anti-choice film

The dialogue is adorable - snappy, smart, funny, captivating - and who wouldn't enjoy that? But I was Juno once - that sixteen year old pregnant girl, and life isn't like that at all. It delivers messages to young women that arent' realistic. Juno is an adorable fantasy - I think that when you're 16 years old you don't understand that, but when you're 50 years old you do.

There's very little angst that Juno experiences over carrying the baby and giving it up - the character is almost disconnected from the many deep-seated emotions that pregnant teens feel. Is that deliberate - or naive?

The narrative implies that carrying a pregnancy to term and relinquishing the baby - giving it up for adoption - is nothing. But we know that it isn't so for a pregnant woman. That's totally unrealistic.

An adolescent girl doesn't have a lot of power, but one of the ways that she can demonstrate her power is through her sexuality. The power of her sexuality is one of the few things she holds over the adults in her life. Whatever her needs are, the use of sexuality and becoming pregnant is still the same - it hasn't changed since the 50s.

I've been astonished how many older teens and women in their twenties thought the film was wonderful. Some of the messages that are so negative went right over their heads. They grow up today in a different context. They've never lived in a country without choice. They don't know that before abortion was legalized, unintended pregnancy was essentially the end of your life as you have known it, regardless of the option you choose.

They're also very judgmental of their friends who become pregnant. Many see Juno as heroic for carrying out of her pregnancy. The real issues surrounding pregnancy isn't discussed in the film Knocked Up either. In Hollywood it's verboten.

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