Warning: This article is pregnant with spoilers. Watch the excellent film Unpregnant on HBO Max before reading.
Unpregnant is a joyous coming-of-age, road trip flick about two teenage girls in the Midwest. But it is also a surprising showcase of a decades-old relationship of two interconnected social movements: a woman's right to choose and LGBTQ+ equality.
In the HBO Max comedy, Veronica (Haley Lu Richardson) learns she is pregnant. The 17-year-old wants to have an abortion, but unfortunately for her, she lives in Missouri, which forbids minors from having one without parental permission. Her only option is to drive to a clinic in Albuquerque, N.M. — and the only person who can help her reach this destination is Bailey (Barbie Ferreira), a former best friend who happens to be queer.
Through Bailey, Veronica accesses not only a car but also an ally in the fight against the patriarchy. At every turn, misogynistic forces try to stop the pregnant teen from accessing her right to choose, including the Missouri state legislature, Catholic parents, and anti-abortion activists.
Most notably, Veronica's boyfriend Kevin (Alex MacNicoll, above), who had anticipated her pregnancy after discovering (but not revealing) a broken condom, becomes the manifestation of toxic masculinity by trying to leverage the unwanted pregnancy into an unwanted marriage. He even resorts to stalking and blackmail in an attempt to force Veronica — a Brown-bound overachiever — into a submissive, heteronormative mold. This oppression is cyclical, the film tells us, and hard to escape, as Veronica's older sister was also a teen mom.
As the only other character who stands outside of this paradigm, Bailey, who only has eyes for a badass race car driver played by Betty Who, is able to see through the BS and call out Kevin for his attempts at oppression. She is clear-eyed not only about Veronica's foes but also Veronica's own internalized biases; in one scene, she notes that her white middle-class friend is "exactly" the kind of girl who would get an abortion and then remain closeted about it, thus becoming complicit in the cycle of stigma.
Tellingly, the pair also receive assistance from people of color, including a Black woman at a pawn shop who forces Kevin to flee with a gun and exchanges the symbol of the patriarchy — an engagement ring he gave to Veronica — for the money required to obtain her reproductive freedom. Throughout the film, POC assist Veronica on her journey (Bailey is also Latinx), helping her to avoid arrest and, in the case of Bob (Giancarlo Esposito), a libertarian outraged by the state imposing restrictions on Veronica's body, a limousine ride past the barricade of screaming pro-lifers.
Eventually, the pregnant teen is able to see outside of her own struggle in order to restore her friendship with Bailey, who like many LGBTQ+ young people had faced struggles with substance abuse and family rejection. While Veronica had only been focused on obtaining her own freedom in Albuquerque, Bailey also had a secret mission of connecting with her estranged father, who said he had never wanted children and, it is implied, certainly not one as "crazy" as Bailey. When her father once again turns her away, it is Veronica who holds a mirror up to his actions, shaming another oppressive, patriarchal figure while also reminding her queer friend of her worth.
While Unpregnant clearly draws from teen buddy forebears like Superbad and Booksmart, its plot is also a familiar one from the annals of history. The rise of antifeminist and antigay forces in the 1970s, as excellently depicted in Hulu's Mrs. America series about Phyllis Schlafly, helped to coalesce a constellation of social justice movements for Black people, women, and LGBTQ+ folks. The AIDS crisis created further common cause by demonstrating the need for access to clinics and care for marginalized people.
This power in collaboration is inscribed in landmark decisions by the Supreme Court, where gains in LGBTQ+ rights often cite past victories in reproductive freedom as precedent. Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned sodomy U.S. laws, includes this quote: “These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the [Constitution]." It's a passage straight from Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which struck down a Pennsylvania law's requirement that a woman seeking an abortion had to notify her husband.
In the present day, an attendee of the Women's March or the Black Lives Matter uprising can witness the show of intersectional strength and see how, like Veronica and Bailey come to learn, the fight for liberation is shared.
Unpregnant is now streaming on HBO Max. Watch the trailer below.