Nearly 40 years ago, Fast Times at Ridgemont High interspersed a dispassionate abortion plot line in a movie about the exploits of 1982 teens. Stacy, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, becomes pregnant during sex with Robert Romanus’s sleazeball Mike Damone, and schedules an appointment at a clinic. When Damone neglects to show up to drive her there, she has her brother Brad (Judge Reinhold) drop her off at the bowling alley across the way, but he figures out where she’s really going and picks her up after to show her support. She is fine, and the experience is so normal as to be mundane. The most controversial element of this scene is what a complete asshole Damone is.
In an interview with Yahoo, though, Fast Times writer Cameron Crowe says that there’s no way that scene could exist as is if it were shot in 2019, that depicting an abortion on screen would be “outrageously controversial, and it would be protested, and there would be a mess over it.” Cameron credits director Amy Heckerling for the complete normalcy of its tone:
“She read my book, she read the script, and we asked her about the abortion scene, and she said, ‘You know what? This is life. I want to shoot this like life, just like life.’ Which is everything you’d want in a director – and a woman director, at a time when no women directors were getting jobs in Hollywood,” says Crowe. “She just quietly did it, and in an almost European way, she put this young girl’s life onscreen in a way for you to judge: This is just how life is. It meant a lot when she did it at the time, and it still means a lot. It was a very courageous thing to do, and it actually is the one thing about the movie that I’m probably happiest about at this point.”
It’s probably not incorrect to say that a scene like that in a teen movie would cause a disproportionate amount of protestation, from anti-abortion groups as well as conservative organizations like the Parents Television Council, which seems to protest virtually everything on television and some film, too. And a scene like that likely couldn’t be shot realistically in 2019 without including the anti-abortion protesters who post up outside clinics and intimidate patients—in fact, one of the starkest parts of the Fast Times scene is how quiet it is, and how Stacy is able to attend her appointment, and deal with her emotions about it, fully unbothered.
There have been abortion scenes in film and television since 1982: most recently Shrill, the Hulu series based on Jez alum Lindy West’s book of the same name, depicted the act of having an abortion with a similarly relaxed patina of normalcy, and shows like Scandal, Jane the Virgin, and Girls have dealt with the matter in episodes as well. But what Crowe’s comments illuminate is the way abortion has become increasingly vilified among a small group of vocal opponents, which has created a potentially chilling effect for creatives who deign to depict it—despite being a very real life experience for millions of women—on screen.
This post has been corrected to reflect that Stacy did not have sex for the first time with Mike Damone, she had sex for the first time with Ron Johnson. Jezebel profoundly regrets this error.