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SNL’s distasteful attempt to make abortion funny, by Dana Hall McCain

SNL’s distasteful attempt to make abortion funny, by Dana Hall McCain

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The extent to which our public discourse is coarsening and our hearts are hardening is sometimes stunning. Take-your-breath-away stunning. That’s how I felt after watching Saturday Night Live comedian Cecily Strong’s “Goober the Clown (who had an abortion when she was 23)” skit on last week’s show.

The premise of the skit was that Strong/Goober the Clown had an abortion at 23, and because the issue is still hotly debated in our culture, she has to keep talking about it, so she’s decided to do it dressed as a clown while doing silly things to “lighten it up.”

The unintended admission buried in the script is that the subject burdens even pro-choice advocates because the reality of abortion is so raw and brutal. Strong’s comedic character demonstrates that even abortion rights cheerleaders need a break from the pall of it—some glib way to keep celebrating choice without fully carrying the moral weight of that choice.

I love comedy and usually enjoy Strong’s work. She’s talented and smart. But in her need to make a political statement with significant moral implications in a thinly veiled, clumsy attempt at humor, she crossed a line in a way that made me cringe.

I have friends and acquaintances who hold differing views on the abortion issue from my own. But one thing we tend to agree on is that this subject is not slapstick comedy. It’s one wherein two lives are in distress or outright peril. Finding a way forward through the pressure of an unplanned pregnancy is heartbreaking, and the stakes are very high.

Whether a child lives or dies is not funny. The distress many vulnerable women experience in a crisis pregnancy is not funny. If we have any chance of finding cultural consensus on this issue, we must approach it with the respect and sobriety that the human dignity of both mother and child demands.

The rhetoric of the right has moderated on this issue in recent decades, as well—and it needed to. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, pro-life rallies would be awash with gory, graphic depictions of aborted fetuses. Signs would label women who choose abortion as murderers and worse. Thankfully, pro-life leaders realized that this wasn’t the way to discuss such a sensitive issue in the public square. They realized we would have more productive conversations with the fellow citizens we sought to influence if we treated them, and the subject, with more discretion.

SNL’s choice to air this skit is another symptom of the accelerating decline of our culture. Contemporary comedy is part of the broader public discourse. It can be a vital part of the conversation, as the tools of satire and parody allow us to say things that are harder to express through more straightforward communication and debate.

But there are limits. There are places where the envelope just shouldn’t be pushed, if we are to retain our humanity.

There are certain things that we shouldn’t be comfortable laughing about, and the pain of others is one of them. Whether they are immigrants, the poor, those who struggle with addiction or mental health problems, women facing unplanned pregnancies, or their vulnerable unborn children — the pain of others is not a punchline.

What’s more, the people I know who do the hard work of post-abortive counseling will tell you that the psychological cost of abortion doesn’t leave everyone in the mood to don a rainbow wig and a plastic nose. For many women, it is a shattering experience.

I know some will view my revulsion toward a comedy sketch as prudish. But if it is, I’m just a prude. I never want to lose my sensitivity to the value of human life or the tragedy of its loss.

Dana Hall McCain writes about faith, culture, and public policy for The Birmingham News in Alabama.

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