By now, most of you have probably heard the news: after she got black-out drunk at a party and found herself pregnant and unsure of who the father of her baby is, Buffy Summers is getting an abortion in the franchise’s Season 9 comic book extensions of the television show. I’m profoundly relieved that, in keeping with his courage about social issues in general, Buffy The Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon has been firm that Buffy will definitely go through with the procedure, rather than following the lead of so many other pop culture artifacts, which generally have a character consider abortion before deciding to keep the baby. But even more than the fact that Buffy is doing this storyline, I think these comments from Whedon in Entertainment Weekly are important:
I think strongly that teen pregnancy and young people having babies when they are not emotionally, financially, or otherwise equipped to take care of them, is kind of glorified in our media right now. You know, things like Secret Life [of an American Teenager] and Juno and Knocked Up – even if they pretend to deal with abortion, the movies don’t even say the word “abortion.” It’s something that over a third of American women are going to decide to have to do in their lives. But people are so terrified that no one will discuss the reality of it — not no one, but very few popular entertainments, even when they say they’re dealing with this issue, they don’t, and won’t. It’s frustrating to me.
I don’t think Buffy should have a baby. I don’t think Buffy can take care of a baby. I agree with Buffy. It’s a very difficult decision for her, but she made a decision that so many people make and it’s such a hot button issue with Planned Parenthood under constant threat and attack right now. A woman’s right to choose is under attack as much as it’s ever been, and that’s a terrible and dangerous thing for this country. I don’t usually get soap box-y with this, but the thing about Buffy is all she’s going through is what women go through, and what nobody making a speech, holding up a placard, or making a movie is willing to say.
This is honestly one of the messaging issues I struggle most with. I defy anyone to read Adrian Nicole Leblanc’s Random Family and think that we shouldn’t provide more support for teenaged mothers. I may find it inexplicable that a 14-year-old would want to get pregnant or that a 16- or 17-year-old would want to derail their education by having a child and raising it herself, but for the sake of that teenager’s kids, I want her to have access to plenty of WIC, subsidized daycare, and health insurance. And I think it’s repulsive that anyone thinks we should start the process of trying to prevent teenagers from getting pregnant by making it harder for their children to grow up with adequate access to food, clothing, medical care and safe child care.
But that does leave a messaging window that requires a greater precision: it’s not easy to glamorize abstinence for a mass audience, but it is possible to talk up good grades and the opportunities that college, travel, and career bring along with them. We need pop culture to stand up not just for the right to choose, but to emphasize all the adventures you can have if you finish your education and find a fulfilling job. And those adventures don’t only have to include killing vampires.