The Fine Line Between Normalizing and Glamorizing Abortion

How to talk about a medical procedure that, depending on who you ask, is either taken too seriously or not seriously enough.

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How to talk about a medical procedure that, depending on who you ask, is either taken too seriously or not seriously enough.

Abortion Is the New Black

How to talk about a medical procedure that, depending on who you ask, is either taken too seriously or not seriously enough.

By Kayla Kibbe, Connecticut College


“Teen Vogue” came under fire last month after publishing a “post-abortion gift guide” that many critics accused of putting an alarmingly tongue-in-cheek spin on one of today’s most controversial issues.

The article, “What to Get a Friend Post-Abortion,” features a slideshow of feminist gag gifts, including an “F U-terus” pin and an “angry uterus heating pad,” which critics have accused of trivializing the emotional, physical and mental consequences of abortion.

While the article acknowledges that the decision to terminate a pregnancy “is never simple,” for many critics, the cheeky, lighthearted gift guide reads as a distasteful attempt to minimize what is a serious and emotionally challenging life choice, regardless of political views. In an attempt to open up conversation around an important and sensitive issue, “Teen Vogue” got caught in a familiar narrative in which attempts at normalization inevitably fall into accusations of glamorization ripe for criticism.

Abortion Is Not BD Wong

Much of the backlash surrounding the article revolves around accusations of “misguiding teenagers into thinking abortion is not a big deal.” Pro-life teen Autumn Lindsey espoused similar sentiments, criticizing the article’s “light-hearted” and “nonchalant” approach, while clarifying that “abortion is a big deal. No one skips into that room as if they’re having their hair highlighted or their nails painted.”

The Fine Line Between Normalizing and Glamorizing Abortion
Image via The Frisky

Most criticism also seemed particularly concerned with how such a lighthearted approach would affect women struggling with feelings of remorse or regret post-abortion, with a response from “National Review” claiming:

“This kind of rhetoric is harmful because it discounts the experiences of the many women who do honestly experience regret after choosing to have an abortion. It tells post-abortive women that there’s something wrong with them if they feel badly about having made that choice.”

Autumn Lindsey echoed similar views in the same “Students for Life” video saying, “Such a blasé approach hurts women who regret their abortion. It minimizes their pain.”

Lindsey goes on to suggest that the article implies that “girls who celebrate their abortions understand their abortions more than those who regret them.”

The problem with this criticism is that it presumes a link between positivity and insouciance. For these critics, “promoting abortion (including showing abortion positively or restrictions on abortion negatively)” trivializes the procedure, diminishing its gravity and importance as a life choice. However, no one would ever suggest that bringing gifts to a patient undergoing chemotherapy “trivializes” their condition, and aiming this accusation at the hospitable treatment of post-abortive women exposes staunchly pro-life rhetoric.

According to this criticism, no woman who decides to terminate a pregnancy can be taking abortion “seriously,” unless, of course, she later regrets her decision. While it is important to provide women suffering from post-abortive regret with the help they need, structuring all post-abortion conversation entirely around women who regret their decision would only push more women into this unfortunate and destructive mindset. Ultimately, these critics have found an indirect way of saying post-abortive women should suffer.

While much of the criticism dons an unbiased façade under the veil of qualifying assertions like National Review’s statement, “As people on both sides of the aisle will agree, whether or not to get an abortion is a complex decision,” it still ultimately maintains that abortion is inherently wrong. While the articles pretend to be concerned solely with the flippancy of rhetoric of “Teen Vogue,” the underlying objection to abortion as a principle is only thinly concealed.

How to talk about a medical procedure that, depending on who you ask, is either taken too seriously or not seriously enough.
THINX High Waisted Panties (Image via THINX)

Critics were quick to jump on the article’s cheeky review of THINX High Waisted Period Panties, which, as “Teen Vogue” affirms, are perfect for “post-abortion woes, especially because there will be blood.” While this last statement admittedly becomes hilariously gruesome depending on your political perspective, the magazine’s approach only becomes insensitive or distasteful from a pro-life viewpoint.

While criticism repeatedly returns to the purportedly impartial censure of the article’s dismissive approach to a serious issue, it remains clear that for these critics, treating abortion “seriously” cannot coexist with a healthy pro-choice outlook. According to much of the rhetoric surrounding the “Teen Vogue” backlash, the only way for abortion to be taken seriously is for post-abortive women to endure a mandatory mourning period of solitary—and, most importantly, silent—contemplation. No jokes, no laughing, and most of all, no presents.

“Brrap Brrap Pew Pew”

Despite a guise of maintaining the gravity and seriousness of abortion for all women, these criticisms are decidedly pro-life, and ultimately are not concerned with the flippant rhetoric of “Teen Vogue,” but would have been similarly offended by any publication that painted abortion as anything less than a tragedy.

These critics’ repeated preoccupation with defending post-abortive women who regret their decision, despite overwhelming evidence that these women are a significant minority, betrays their not-so-hidden opinion that the only appropriate way to address abortion is to frame it as a cautionary tale of regret and suffering.

Essentially, the “Teen Vogue” backlash condemns any but the most reproachful mention of abortion, echoing the satirical question asked in the Netflix Original, “Bojack Horseman,” “Wouldn’t a better forum for that be nowhere?”

In an unfortunate instance of life imitating art, the “Teen Vogue” controversy blindly mirrors the problematic rhetoric surrounding abortion parodied in season three, episode 6, “Brrap Brrap Pew Pew.”

The episode takes a candid, nuanced and hilarious look at the societal implications of abortion today as it traces Diane’s decision to terminate her pregnancy. The episode is refreshingly cut and dried in its approach; as critics noted, there is no traditional question of “whether Diane wants the baby or Mr. Peanutbutter’s going to talk her into keeping it.” That is, until Diane accidentally tweets “I’m getting an abortion” out to pop starlet Sextina Aquafina’s forty million followers. An initially enraged Sextina quickly changes her tune once she sees the opportunity to amp up her publicity, and the hit single “Get Dat Fetus, Kill Dat Fetus” is born.

Not unlike the outraged “Teen Vogue” commentators, Diane initially finds Sextina’s superficial, hypersexual approach problematic, until she runs into a fellow pre-abortive woman in the “Planned Parrothood” waiting room, who calls Sextina’s music empowering.

“It doesn’t offend you?” Diane asks.

“It’s a joke. You get that it’s a joke right?” the girl explains. “Getting an abortion is scary…And when you can joke about it, it makes it less scary, you know?”

A little lightheartedness can go a long way in opening up conversation and helping women accept and embrace their choice. Abortion is not a decision anyone makes lightly, and there’s no reason post-abortive women should be condemned to a time-out chair to think about what they did.

“America, Get Your Uteruses Turnt”

As with any hot button issue, the conversation around abortion is constantly torn between accusations of stigmatization and trivialization. Keep quiet about the issue, and you’re adding to the stigma. Speak up, and you’re glamorizing it. Make light of it, and you’re trivializing it.

The bottom line is, abortion is a reality, even for the relatively young target audience of “Teen Vogue.” And, for many women, its an unfortunate reality, a lesser of two evils.

However, regardless of a woman’s personal feelings regarding her abortion, there’s no reason that she shouldn’t be able to find comfort and peace in her decision, even if that comfort comes from some tongue-in-cheek gag gifts or a cheeky pop single.

Pro-life accusations of “trivializing” the pain of women who regret their decision are ultimately destructive to both women who do and do not regret their abortions. Framing abortion as a tragedy that should be looked on with remorse only hurts women, and ultimately establishes a narrative that encourages suffering. Any woman in that situation, whether or not she regrets her decision, could use a pick me up, and if that comes in the form of an “F-Uterus” pin, who is it really hurting?

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