The Message of “Never Rarely Sometimes Always”: Abortion Gets Sexual Predators Off the Hook

Posted on April 14, 2020 By

by Rachel MacNair

With the initial theater release interrupted by the Covid-19 closing of theaters, this movie was offered online April 3, 2020.

 

The title of the movie, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is based on an intense scene in which the protagonist, Autumn, is being counseled at an abortion facility before her abortion. Those are the answers she’s to offer to the questions. The counselor asked if she had ever been hit, slapped, or physically hurt. Autumn hesitated, and never answered. When asked if she had sex when she didn’t want to, Autumn cried, but never answered. Then asked more bluntly: had she had forced sex ever, yes or no? She answered, “Yeah.”

Nobody but nobody could watch that scene and not understand that this 17-year-old had been abused. Yet the counselor simply scheduled her abortion and never did any follow-up at all. The facility cleaned her up (so to speak) and sent her back into the abusive situation.

That she’s emotionally numb and troubled about the abuse is clear throughout the entire movie – and especially in the final scene, after the abortion, on the bus on her way home. Looking at her face (pictured) we see a crushed spirit.

Empowerment?

Yet that’s not what the entire audience sees. Apparently, it’s not what the writer and director of the film, Eliza Hittman, sees. Reviewers refer to Autumn as on a brave journey, and being empowered.

This is my view of empowerment for a young woman in Autumn’s situation: she gathers evidence, turns the sexual assaulter in, and if the police and courts aren’t doing their job, rallies the press and public opinion behind her. If she already has reason to suspect the police will make things worse, she can come up with other nonviolent actions. Perhaps getting a group of her friends to picket the abuser’s house. Or she could find (if needed, create) organizations that can work through restorative justice so the abuser can understand the harm he’s doing and how intolerable it is.

An inspiring, empowering story is one in which a way is found to keep the abuser from going on to abuse others. If she’s empowered, she does it. But if that’s a lot to ask of a traumatized 17-year-old, at least have others around who can help her toward that goal.

That’s not what we have here. This is a story of a young woman acquiescing to her abuse, being resigned to it, and being emotionally numbed by it.

There was even a point where she was offered help in finding a place to stay overnight and turned it down. This led directly to the cousin who accompanied her having to put up with an intense-kissing predator in order for them to get money they needed. She sympathetically held the cousin’s hand, but offering sympathy for someone else who must succumb is so very inadequate. It was a weary resignation to their fates.

And once when Autumn was moping in the bus station, the cousin asked her, “What do you want me to do?” Her answer was, “Bug off!” They reconciled soon after, but the tension is palpable. Another time, when she has the laminaria in as the first step in her two-day abortion process, at one point she starts vaginal bleeding. Autumn calls the facility, but when the woman answers, Autumn doesn’t speak, and finally hangs up and leaves. These are not the marks of an empowered young woman driving her own fate.

So how is it that the reviewers don’t see what seems so glaringly obvious to me? Because the idea that the abortion “choice” is empowerment is a premise, not a conclusion. They start looking at the situation that way, and all evidence to the contrary is dismissed. The foundation is unshakable.

A “Pro-Choice” Movie?

The view is that this promotes the pro-choice cause because it’s demonstrating what’s wrong with legal restrictions, by showing a young woman navigating obstacles:

  • The initial pregnancy test was at a Pregnancy Resource Center. Autumn was shown a sonogram of her baby, with a positive message about hearing her baby’s heartbeat. The National Review reviewer reports that at his showing, a woman blurted out “Bitch!” at the mention of a beautiful baby. And then Autumn is shown an “anti-choice propaganda video” – again, showing the baby. And she gets cheerful offers of help, which are apparently seen as sinister since they’re trying to veer her away from abortion.
  • Pennsylvania has a parental consent requirement. Hence, she goes by bus to New York City, where other dangers lurk
  • She can’t use her insurance because then her parents will know. So she struggles with cash.
  • They can’t take her until the next day, so she and her cousin stay up all night; the abortion facility had never offered her help with a place to stay at that point.
  • It’s a two-day procedure. This time she’s offered overnight help and turns it down – hardly someone taking charge of her circumstances.

So here are my questions:

  • If Pennsylvania had no parental consent law, how much better off would she have been? Sneaking to a nearby abortion facility would have saved her the trip to New York – but it would have left her every bit as much in the abusive situation and the distress it was causing.
  • If New York did have a parental consent law, and there were no other place she could go that didn’t, how much better off would she have been? She would have had no trip to New York. If the reason she didn’t want parents to know is that her father was the source of the abuse, then perhaps she needed to get to some agency that could help her with that. But in this movie, she didn’t work that through; the trip and abortion allowed her to accommodate the situation. And maybe get back into the same trip to New York again.
  • If nowhere offered abortions, and we had a society where feticide was held in the revulsion it deserves, how much better off would she have been? Would the sexual abuse still have occurred in a situation where pregnancy means the abuser is bound to get caught?

That last point does mean we’re hoping for a situation better than it was before Roe v. Wade, or the methods of abortion legalization in other countries, when women got clandestine abortions as part of letting their abusers off the hook. But back then there were several additional astonishingly sexist parts of letting abusers off the hook, and for the future, we need to cut all of them out.

Or a “Pro-Life” Movie?

I’d love to see this experiment, easily done in college classes once the Covid-19 crisis is lessened and we have those again: Show the movie in some classes and present it as a pro-choice movie. Show it in other classes and present it as a pro-life movie. In other classes, present it as an interesting story to make people think. Then give them a questionnaire, which includes asking the students their own position on abortion.

My prediction is that the pro-choice students would love it as a pro-choice movie and be utterly outraged by it as a pro-life film. And it could be presented as pro-life. It’s entirely believable that way.

In fact, I recommend that it (or pertinent clips from it) be used in training people working at Pregnancy Help Centers. The realism is notable, and it would make an excellent case study for discussing how to deal with a young woman whose own numbing at her victimization makes her impervious to the cheerful information about the baby and offers of options.

I think the movie helps the case against abortion even for those who don’t understand it that way. All assurances that abortion is an easy no-big-deal thing are out the window. I suspect no one watching this film is more likely to get one, and plenty of people who buy the writer’s premise that restrictions are a terrible thing are nevertheless less likely to think of getting one when it’s that much trouble. It’s a lengthy anti-advertisement.

This is a movie that would have much more of an anti-abortion impact if we pro-lifers were able to see how very much this realistic film documents one crucial aspect of how abortion is so very bad for women.

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  1. I think you’re right that people won’t be more likely to have an abortion from watching a movie like this, but some who watch it with a bias toward seeing it as a pro-choice narrative might be made more likely to advocate against restrictions.

    Of course, being biased in favor of nonviolence myself, I also think your points about the messaging are spot-on. As they say at Feminists for Life, abortion masks the problems it’s claimed to solve. I’ve often noticed this coming through in fictional portrayals of abortion, even if not intended that way. Women really do deserve better.

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