Stephen King’s Blockbuster It and America’s Abortion Trauma

By Kevin Burke Published on September 20, 2017

“The artist … one who allows art to realize its purposes through him … a vehicle and molder of the unconscious psychic life of mankind.”

—Psychiatrist Carl Jung, Psychology and Literature, 1930

A new screen adaptation of Stephen King’s classic 1986 novel It was just released in theaters. It was a record-setting debut for a September film, grossing an estimated $123.1 million.

King’s story explores the small New England town of Derry and a group of geeky adolescents called The Losers. As the story unfolds, they encounter vicious bullies and disappearing classmates.

Something dark and mysterious is happening in the town of Derry. The murder rate in Derry is six times that of any other town of comparable size in New England. Children disappear at a rate of forty to sixty per year. Their bodies never turn up. One member of the Losers, Mike Hanlon, says the town is in a state of mass denial about this disturbing phenomenon: “In Derry, people have a way of looking the other way.”

Something Dark and Mysterious

In the opening sequence of the movie, a young boy named Georgie tries to retrieve his toy boat. It had floated down a storm drain. King’s book describes Georgie’s encounter with a clown named Pennywise. He lurks beneath the surface of the storm drain:

“Want your boat, Georgie?’ Pennywise asked … he held it up, smiling.

‘Yes, sure,’ George said, looking into the storm drain. … Georgie reached. The clown seized his arm. And George saw the clown’s face change.”

Dave hears the desperate screams of Georgie: “Dave Gardener was the first to get there. … Blood flowed into the storm drain from the tattered hole where [Georgie’s] left arm had been. A knob of bone, horribly bright, peeked through the torn cloth.”

A mangled arm is all that is left of little Georgie.

Months later after Georgie’s disappearance, his brother Bill is driven to find the boy’s missing body. Bill leads his friends Ritchie, Eddie, and Stan into trouble as they search the sewers for some sign of the boy.

The children learn of a demonic clown with razor-like teeth which they name “It.” The creature lives in the sewers beneath the town. The clown periodically surfaces to visit children in different monstrous forms tailored to their personal fears.

Missing Fathers and Missing Children

It author Stephen’s King’s biography reveals childhood trauma and the loss of his father. That loss left the young boy tortured by anxiety and phobias. Writing became a creative outlet for his emotional pain. King skillfully wove that into his tales of horror, science fiction and fantasy.

As psychiatrist Carl Jung suggests, a gifted story teller like King, who experienced a daily and intensive compulsion to write, can also connect to those dark currents submerged in a community and culture.

Like the clown Pennywise lurking beneath the sewers, there are sinister forces and events that the adults and society fail to recognize, or aggressively deny. As Mike Hanlon said of the town of Derry, “people have a way of looking the other way.”

What seismic event was unfolding across the small towns and big cities of the United States in the years leading up to King’s 1986 novel It? The national abortion rate was rising. In towns and cities across the U.S., millions of children were missing:

Abortion crossed the 1.5 million a year mark for the first time in 1980 with 1,553,900 … and the high for the decade of 1,590,800 reported in 1988. … The U.S. abortion ratio reached its peak in 1984, with a figure of 364 abortions for every thousand live births. [my emphasis]

One of the Losers, Bill, asks his friends after Georgie’s attack: “What happens when another Georgie goes missing? Are we just going to pretend it didn’t happen, like everyone else in this town?”

Abortion Survivors

We often fail to acknowledge that children born since 1973 are “abortion survivors.” Some have expressed an intuitive sense that children in their families and communities were missing.

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Psychiatrist Dr Philip Ney has studied and treated children and adults who learned at some point in their lives that their sibling or half-sibling was aborted. Author Janet Morana shares:

Dr. Philip Ney tells a story of a woman who came to him for counseling for her six-year-old child who was having nightmares, wetting the bed, and suffering from separation anxiety. Dr. Ney, in his interview with the mother, asked her about any pregnancy losses. She told him about two abortions that she had prior to giving birth to this child. Then in a separate interview with the child, Dr. Ney asked the child to draw a picture of her family. She was an only child, and yet she drew a picture with her mom, dad, brother, sister, and herself. She had a sense of the missing siblings.

Pennywise the Abortionist

Think of the razor-like teeth of Pennywise the clown tearing off the arm of little Georgie. That’s a powerful metaphor for the actions of an abortionist, especially in later term procedures. Former abortionist Dr Anthony Levatino describes a D&E abortion:

[I]n a D&E procedure you must use a grasping clamp … there’s rows of teeth … When this gets a hold of something it does not let go … grabbing at parts of the baby, and then getting a hold and pulling, and you really pull … all of a sudden you pull out an arm or a leg that big, and put it down on the table next to you.

Perpetually Distracted

Media can keep us perpetually distracted. There has been a conspiracy of silence about the disappearance of close to 60 million children missing since abortion was legalized in 1973.

Our collective denial of this national tragedy robs us of the chance to repent, grieve and heal from the loss. To mourn our fellow children, grandchildren, brothers and sisters, and nieces and nephews.

It brings to mind Bill’s reaction to the missing, dismembered and murdered children in their town of Derry: “Are we just going to pretend it didn’t happen?”

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  • Alvinator

    Ugh, very well said. You have made a powerful and very sad connection. I am among those who have looked the other way.

  • Neither side is willing to compromise.

    The pro-life side says that as soon as conception takes place, the pregnancy must be carried to term, and anything less is cold-blooded murder.

    The pro-choice side says that impeding a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy, at ANY point, is chipping away at her right to self-determination.

    Can anyone think of a compromise here?

    • Charles Burge

      Scientific inquiry is showing more and more every day that an unborn child is exactly what our hearts know it is – a human being. From the moment of conception onward, nothing more is added except time and nutrition. My hope and prayer is that someday we’ll look back on the time when abortion was legal in the same way we look back on the time when slavery was legal: an ugly embarrassing chapter in our history, when we denied basic human rights to a subset of our population. There can be no compromise in my view, because abortion is nothing short of a crime against humanity.

    • LgVt

      The problem is that abortion is an issue where any compromise on either side undermines the core rationale for that position.

      A pro-lifer who allows for exceptions is saying, in essence, that abortion is murder, but under some circumstances, murder is okay. That’s a problem.

      A pro-choicer who would concede that after a certain point abortions should not be permitted, will have a great deal of trouble explaining why–because any particular boundary line, whether that be a trimester, viability, or anything else, is purely arbitrary (and in the case of viability, variable and dependent upon the technology available at a particular time and place). If he or she concedes that any abortions should be restricted or banned, he or she has conceded that all abortions should be restricted or banned. That’s also a problem.

      The above are the only two consistent positions on the question of abortion. In between, you have the vast, muddled, apathetic American middle–instinctively uncomfortable, not having given the matter any great thought, not wanting to give the matter any great thought, simply going along with the status quo so that they don’t have to pay any attention.

      For comparison, the America of the mid-1800s is instructive. Then, as now, the situation was not stable. Then, as now, there was no consistent middle position. Because of that, then, as now, it was impossible for there to ever be a lasting compromise.

      Then, as now, the vast majority of the country simply did not care.

      Then, it took a Civil War for the United States to finally wake up.


      • Charles Burge

        Very well said!

      • Veri Si Secur

        I agree. It’s like with slavery. If you admit that a black is a person and has some rights, why is it okay to enslave them. I know you already made that point. Some people said things like, “can’t we just come up with a compromise? I’m tired of hearing about slavery all the time.” A war really does seem to be the only thing that can end this issue, which means that even more innocent people are going to die because of abortion.

  • Eamonn Gaines

    When Stephen King wants to reach for a viscerally offensive image, interestingly he uses abortion. When Anderson, the deputy warden, in the Green Mile demands to know what went wrong with the execution of Eduard Delacroix who was burnt alive rather than electrocuted, he says “How in the name of Christ can you call a direct-current abortion like that a success?”

  • Craig Roberts

    Interesting article. Although I can’t help but point out that the book “It” was horrible. At the time it was released one critic issued a review that was comprised of just one word. The word rhymed with “it” and described the book perfectly.

  • gOf

    You know that Stephen King is on the record as pro-choice, right?

  • Nate H

    The town is Derry, not Deery.

  • disqus_zLY0jsDmax

    It is an interesting interpretation. The premise of “It” is that the town, Derry, has unleashed the forces of darkness on the town because it has failed to acknowledge their terrible racist past where hundreds of blacks died in an arson attack. The clown comes back every 27 years to unleash it’s fury on the town by taking their children. So, liberal commentators have said that its significance lies in what it says about racism, specifically, white supremacy. I guess one could say they both fit – racism and abortion. However, I have never read anywhere that SK intended to make a statement about either. He tells stories that are meant to horrify for horror’s sake. He makes an occasional reference to politics, clearly liberal. I have never heard him make a claim that there is any social metaphor in his stories other than unconscious ones. He is a master at story and character and highly underrated but I have never thought of SK as a literary writer and he does not claim to be. He writes commercial fiction and that is good enough for him. What others wish to see in it is up to them.

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