***NEWS UPDATE*** In June of 2022, the United States Supreme Court overruled Roe v Wade, the 1973 case that established the right to access abortion without excessive government restriction based on a Constitutional right to privacy. Now, more than half of the 50 states ban or severely restrict abortion (eg., no exceptions for rape, incest or no abortions after 6 weeks gestation –before many women would know they were pregnant because of irregular periods, etc). Civil and criminal penalties are provided in some states against healthcare providers and even people who assist in accessing abortion services. Abortion access will be determined by each state. The new ruling pertains to tens of millions of fertile adolescent girls and women. So… I guess pregnant females have bodily autonomy in some states and not others??? Maybe “camping” in the Northeast or on the West Coast will be an option for those who can afford it. Or maybe a desperate return to coat hangers 😦
Synopsis: A teen tries to access an abortion. This film was released in 2020.
Never Rarely Sometimes Never tackles the controversial subject of abortion, something that is either ignored in films or addressed in documentary form from a pro choice or anti abortion POV. On television, beginning in the 1970’s, unplanned pregnancies and abortion were tentatively explored. Quelle scandale for an American public who were raised on 1950’s married couples who had separate beds. But usually the question of whether to seek an abortion or not was solved by the woman’s character conveniently miscarrying. NRSA is an unvarnished and long overdue film narrative about abortion.
The movie centers on the experience of Autumn (Sidney Flanagan), a seventeen-year-old high school student living in Pennsylvania. Women in the United States do not have equal access to reproductive health services, including abortion; states decide when, where, who and even if a pregnant woman or girl can get an abortion. In Penn. pregnant girls under the age of eighteen must have parental consent for an abortion.
And this is where the story of Autumn begins. We see her at her high school’s talent show, feeling awkward as she sings and plays guitar. Her mom, played by Sharon Van Etten singer songwriter extraordinaire (click to hear her beautifully elegiac “Love More“), watches proudly while her younger siblings fidget. Ryan Eggold co-stars as her stepdad, who would rather not be there. He proves to be a total d**k. So disappointing because his doctor character on New Amsterdam is saintly and would’ve been really helpful.
We don’t know who the impregnator is, but he’s apparently not someone who cares about her. The only person who offers her sympathy is her teen cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) who works with her as a cashier at a local grocery where a smarmy manager tries to fondle the female employees. Understandably, Autumn has been in denial and put off going to a health clinic. She ends up at a “health clinic” where she takes a pregnancy test and the woman there congratulates her on her pregnancy. Right, what girl isn’t thrilled to be pregnant before they even graduate from high school?
Autumn gets online to find info about abortion services and learns she would need to tell a parent and get consent for the procedure. What girl wouldn’t be mortified to tell a parent? So she punches her stomach repeatedly and downs some OTC products that supposedly have abortifacient properties. She injures herself, but doesn’t miscarry. After all, this is real life and not a tv show. So she decides to go to New York state where she can have an abortion. Poor thing, instead of going to someplace small and negotiable like Rochester or Albany, she and her cousin decide to head to New York City.
They put together what little money they have and -for god knows what reason – pack a big suitcase. Taking a bus out of their town, they soon get hit on by a douchey college-age guy who invites them to a party. Yuck. Director-writer Eliza Hittman doesn’t shy away from the prevalent interest that straight guys of all ages show in teen aged girls and their entitlement to their space and attention.
Autumn and Skylar don’t have the benefit of being of an age or position to question how the patriarchy and religious forces conspire to deny women autonomy over their own bodies, especially if they are young and poor. They just try to manage.
What follows is more than they bargained for… they don’t know where they are going or how to get there. In a scene where they are struggling to get the big suitcase through the subway turnstile, you want to yell at the screen: Ditch the suitcase!
They make it to the clinic where the staff is helpful, but there are complications that make it necessary for them to have to return the next day. So there they are with no money and no place to stay. They roam around the city, without food or sleep. And the only person they “know” is the douchey guy on the bus who foisted his cell number on them. Don’t text him! you want to holler, You are both better off fashioning the big suitcase into a shelter!
I feel like Never Rarely Sometimes Always should be part of high school curricula on sex education. People who are anti-abortion would be able to say: Look, what happens if you get knocked up, you young strumpets! Trying to get an abortion will be nearly impossible! While pro-choice people can exclaim: It shouldn’t be nearly impossible to get healthcare. Either way the result is the same, tight controls on terminating pregnancies.
NRSA tackles a commonplace, and very fraught situation: unplanned pregnancies and the women effected. The filmmakers and two young stars provide a sympathetic, sensitive and bleak look at obstruction of women’s healthcare in America.
PS. In a related note, high schools in Pennsylvania are not required to afford students basic information on preventing pregnancy, beyond recommending abstinence. So, yeah, the powers that be can be assured that there will continue to be pregnant teens.
PSS Additional info on teen pregnancy click here.