Two Editors on How to Make an Abortion Ban Funny

The cofounders of satire site Reductress talk about how they're capturing people's collective rage.
May 21, 2019, 11:00am
A screenshot of a headline from Reductress' website

What’s funny about a total abortion ban? Very little. Yet last week, people were gleefully sharing the darkly humorous headlines and stories published by the women’s satire site Reductress, guffawing at its acerbic coverage of the extreme anti-choice laws coming out of Georgia, Ohio, and Alabama to tens of thousands of retweets.

The site has been unsparing in its criticism. A favorite subject of the recent slate of stories is the conservative hypocrisy surrounding abortion legislation: “I Believe God Gave Us All Free Will—Except Pregnant Woman,” reads one headline, accompanied by a photo of an Alabama Governor Kay Ivey grinning; “Senator Says the Only Acceptable Way to Kill a Fetus Is With a Gun,” reads another; “Life Is Sacred, That’s Why This Nonviable Fetus Should Stay Inside Me So We Can Both Die,” reads a third.

Reductress lays bare the components of recent anti-choice legislation that amount to pure cruelty, like the lack of exceptions for rape and incest in Alabama’s abortion ban: “Life Begins the Second a Girl’s Uncle Decides on Incest,” contributor Alexandra Ozeri wrote in a May 15th headline.

And headlines like “What Surprised Me Most About Becoming a Parent Was That I Was Forced to by the Government” are both funny and a punch to the gut—as some people on Twitter pointed out, the world in which these headlines simply reflect reality seems to have grown frighteningly near.


Nonetheless, for many, there has been a certain comfort in seeing their outrage represented in the site’s biting satire. “The only thing getting me through these anti-choice laws is Reductress,” one Twitter user wrote on Friday.

We spoke to Reductress co-founders and editors Sarah Pappalardo and Beth Newell about how the site covers a week of extreme anti-abortion legislation, and why readers are finding solace in it.

VICE: What’s the Reductress ethos when approaching a news event as dire as this?

Sarah Pappalardo: Our content has always been more pointed when writing about matters that are deeply personal to us. While we’ve always been willing to take risks with what we put out there, there is definitely a need in the post-Trump era to make sure that we’re saying the thing that needs to be said, to be specific, and to say something meaningful. We had the luxury of being a lot more glib about some topics years ago when they weren’t directly under threat, and we don’t have that luxury now. Beth Newell: In situations like this we sometimes have to go for the big, obvious perspectives, to make sure we’re not distracting from seriousness threats with a joke about dick size or something random.

What are some of the ironies in anti-abortion talking points Reductress tries to get at?

Pappalardo: The biggest one is that the states that are pushing for these laws the hardest are the ones with the weakest social system, health care, and public education. And that these laws will disproportionately affect poor women and black women in their states—they’re trying to “save lives” that are likely to be disproportionately punished by racist, anti-poor policies when they are born.


Newell: The idea that it’s pro-life to force a woman to carry a nonviable fetus that might endanger her health, or to force poor mothers to raise more children in poverty, is obviously absurd.

What does humor add to this conversation that straight news reporting can’t?

Pappalardo: Satire allows us to zero in on the hypocrisies built into the pro-life movement and the political strategies they’ve employed. It’s a way to shed light on less-talked-about subjects […] and hopefully make people feel a little less alone right now. And they aren’t: Pro-choice people are in the overwhelming majority right now. Nothing that happened or will happen in the Supreme Court was achieved democratically.

Newell: We’re able to push the logic of these bills further, which helps to highlight their absurdity. I think we all get a little too used to certain talking points, even when we disagree with them. This is a nice affirmation to ourselves of how incredibly flawed they are.

What challenges does it pose to Reductress when reality and satire begin to converge ? How is that tension reflected in your content?

Newell: One of the challenges with this type of subject matter is that you have to stay pretty close to it, so as not to miss the point, and in staying close to triggering subject matter it’s possible our work will re-trigger someone. But we try [to] weigh the costs and benefits and do it in a way that is cathartic for our readers.

Pappalardo: There is just not time or space to be coy in this moment when there are important things to say. The goal of satire isn’t always to be funny, but to say something meaningful in a satirical way, and that is our goal above all else—even laughs. Normally I’d be like, “But I hope you do laugh!” but honestly, after this week? Do what you gotta do.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.