Archaic Obstetrics: Revisiting ‘Jug Face’ in The Wake Of Increasing Abortion Restrictions

Jug Face

Ada: “Has anyone ever said no?” 

Sustin: “About what, being joined? Is that why you’re so quiet? It’s a woman’s job to have babies, you gotta be joined to do that.”

Ada: “Is that all I’m good for?”

Sustin: “It’s an amazing thing bearing babies, something no man will ever get to do. Once Bodey gives you a little one, you’ll be beside yourself you’ll see.”

Ada: “What if I can’t?”

Sustin: “Pit’ll make it right, it always does.”

Ada: “Has the pit ever taken a baby?”

Sustin: “Yeah, sure has.”

Those that viewed Chad Crawford Kinkle’s debut feature-length film Jug Face when it was released in 2013 probably can’t recall all of the details about the indie horror movie, but are sure to remember how it made them feel. The premise alone is enough to elicit a myriad of reactions.

An impoverished and isolated backwoods community worships a mystical pit that has healed them in times of sickness and injury for hundreds of years. The catch is they must periodically sacrifice their own members to keep the pit satisfied. The unlucky martyrs’ identities are revealed through visions seen by the local potter, who then sculpts their likeness onto a ceramic jug made from clay extracted from the pit itself. The jug face is then presented to the community and they all gather at the pit for a sacrificial ceremony. The chosen one’s throat is slashed and their blood drains into the ground, feeding the pit’s thirst for lifeblood and satisfying it… for the time being.

What is Jug Face?

Teenager Ada, who discovers that she is pregnant due to an incestuous relationship with her brother, is chosen to be the next jug face. Unwilling to go happily to the chopping block, she hides her jug face from the others which causes the pit to enact its revenge by killing off members of the community until it gets what it wants: Ada and her unborn child.

This may sound like a tale from a bygone era, but Kinkle chose to set it in the present, and by doing so he highlights societal issues that are still evident in America today. Over eight years after Jug Face’s release, its themes of religious fervor, conception through incest, and control over bodily autonomy lamentably resonate with millions of Americans in the passing of Senate Bill 8.  

Senate Bill 8

Senate Bill 8, otherwise known as The Texas Heartbeat Act, went into effect in September of 2021. It is one of the strictest abortion bans in the country, prohibiting abortions “after a heartbeat is detected”, which is about six weeks into pregnancy, and before most people are even aware that they are pregnant. The legal specifics of the law are dense and complicated. But we do know that no exceptions are made for cases of fetal anomaly diagnoses, rape, sexual abuse, or incest. Those who “aid and abet” in the commission of an abortion are liable to be sued by, well, any private citizen.

On October 6th, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pitman temporarily blocked S.B. 8, stating, “women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution.” Two days later, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an administrative stay on Judge Robert’s ruling, effectively allowing S.B. 8 to be enforced. In response, Planned Parenthood, a leading nonprofit organization that provides sexual healthcare in the United States and globally, stated:

“This is a major loss for Texas patients and abortion providers, who have navigated the law’s devastating effects on abortion access for over a month now. In putting S.B. 8 back in effect, the Fifth Circuit has again disregarded half a century of precedent upholding the constitutional right to abortion. On Wednesday, October 6, a federal district court in Austin granted the DOJ’s request to block the law. The State of Texas immediately appealed to the Fifth Circuit and today asked that court to stay the district court’s order which it did only hours later, putting S.B. 8 back in effect — and continuing to deprive Texans of constitutionally protected health care.” 

The Horror Of Revoking Bodily Autonomy

This may sound like something from a horror movie. But we live in a terrifying reality where the bodies of people assigned female at birth (AFAB) are regulated by the government, though this is anything but new. We see this chillingly depicted in Jug Face, as our protagonist Ada’s sex life and reproductive health are constantly commented on and controlled by those around her. It is the business of her family as well as the concern of the community at large. Not only do they view the concept of a woman’s virginity as a measure of her integrity, but it is also used as a bargaining chip. It’s a metaphorical dowry for her family to leverage into an arranged marriage with one of the (few) eligible bachelors in the community.

When she learns that her family has arranged for her to “join” [marry] a boy named Bodey, she comments, “Should have seen it coming, not like there’s anyone else who could have asked.” Any sort of agency is completely denied to Ada. No one ever asks if she wants to marry Bodey, or what she wants for her life and future in general, for that matter. She is simply expected to do what she is told to maintain the community’s status quo: stay abstinent until it is time to join a man who is chosen for you, bear his children, and worship the pit. Every aspect of Ada’s life is controlled by her parents, and when she is married that control is transferred to her husband. At no point in her life is she allowed to have any kind of personal freedom; she is fundamentally prohibited from autonomy of any kind. This is explicitly illustrated in the film when Ada is talking to her mother, Loriss, and says, “I do what I want.” Loriss angrily replies, “You will do what Bodey tells you to! Now that’s the way it is, you best get used to it.”

With the passing of S.B. 8 into law, and the recent leaked draft from the Supreme Court, we as a country are reminded that the long-standing American tradition of cisgender men determining what AFAB people can and cannot do with their own bodies—and in doing so completely stripping them of bodily autonomy—is far from over. What’s even scarier is that religion plays an integral role in the creation of restrictive abortion bans like S.B. 8.

The Pit of Jug Face and American Politics

In Jug Face, the basis for the community’s entire structure and way of life is the pit. It is a divine force, healing when placated and vengeful when unsatisfied. They pray to it, swear on it, and submit to its whims without question. Those, like Ada, who choose to disobey it are made to atone for their misdeeds. Just as the community allows the pit to dictate their beliefs, thoughts, and actions, so does Christianity dictate the beliefs, thoughts, and actions of millions of Americans, some of which hold positions of great power and authority in the United States government.

As he signed the bill into law, Texas Governor Greg Abbott stated, “Our creator endowed us with the right to life, and yet millions of children lose their right to life every year.” His choice of words invoking the Christian God is not accidental. It confirms that personal religious views absolutely played a critical part in the creation of S.B. 8. Christian churches, businesses, and organizations consistently condemn abortion and have actively opposed entities that support and provide abortions, like Planned Parenthood, while backing politicians who reflect similar conservative values to their own. You would be hard-pressed to drive down any southern or midwestern American highway and not come across at least one billboard displaying anti-abortion rhetoric along the lines of, “All children are God’s children,” or “Choose Life, Pray Pray Pray.”

Taking Away Our Rights

When these beliefs make their way into government policies that is when the issue of a lack of separation between church and state specifically inhibits the reproductive rights of people with uteruses. Conservative lawmakers continually push against the precedents set by Roe v. Wade, and in the current political climate, it only seems to be getting worse. According to The Guttmacher Institute, a United States-based research and policy organization focused on sexual and reproductive health and rights, more than 100 abortion restrictions were enacted in 2021 so far. This is the highest number of abortion restrictions passed since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. There is no denying that religion can be crucial to how certain legislative decisions are made, whether the lawmakers themselves believe in it or are trying to appease voters that do.

Just as Ada is at the mercy of the pit, the US citizens are having their constitutional rights taken away all because the powers that be—be they God or the government—deem it so. Abortion is healthcare, and many people who need it will be forced to go without or seek it elsewhere. And just as Ada tries to escape her controlling community to protect her bodily autonomy, Texans are fleeing the state to receive the reproductive care they are unable to obtain where they live. 

Hiding Pregnancy in Jug Face

Ada attempts to sneak into town to see a “real” doctor, but she is soon discovered and swiftly brought back to the community by her father, Sustin. In a society that has no want or need for trained medical doctors, Loriss acts as Ada’s self-appointed OB/GYN, from checking her underwear for menstrual blood to ensure that she isn’t pregnant, to giving her a vaginal exam to determine if she has engaged in penetrative sex. She performs the latter in the family’s bathroom, lit cigarette in hand, all too ready to burn Ada’s inner thigh with the smoldering butt when she refuses to cooperate. Loriss says,  “I wanna see if you’ve been fooling around before you shame all of us.”

After determining that Ada has been sexually active, she exclaims, “You little slut!” and proceeds to torture her by cutting her hand with a pocket knife so she will reveal the person with which she has been intimate.

Ada’s value as a person is directly determined by her sex life, a concept that remains pervasive in America, from Christian purity culture of “saving yourself for marriage,” to slut shaming women for having multiple sexual partners. American society as a whole has always been fixated on chastity, especially that of those assigned female at birth. AFAB people that partake in premarital sex are often subject to being hurled with epithets, told that no one will want to marry them, and/or that they deserve any negative consequences they may experience as a result of being sexually active.

Devaluing Women

We see this in Jug Face when Ada’s parents discover that she was pregnant with Jessaby’s child. At this point in the film, they are arranging for Ada to join Corber, Bodey’s father, because both Bodey and his mother, Corber’s wife, are killed in previous scenes. As we know, the options of single men for Ada are limited. They say they will pay Corber whatever he wants in order to get rid of her. Loriss even says, “Maybe we shouldn’t tell Corber. He’ll just say she’s ruined anyway,” and screams at Ada, “…he probably won’t want your sorry ass now!” 

Loriss’s cruel words remind us not only that American society continues to judge AFAB people based on their sexual activity to this day, but that men are not alone in orchestrating and maintaining sex-based oppression. The alarming fact is some women are just as responsible for perpetuating this kind of regressive and harmful ideology, and do so by actively opposing the right to abortion. 

Women and Internalized Misogyny

One of the most sinister aspects of Jug Face is the intensely dogmatic and cruel approach Loriss takes when interacting with her daughter. It is she, not Sustin, who is quick to verbally and physically abuse Ada when she does something that Loriss perceives to be sinful or disobedient. After Ada is brutally whipped for trying to escape, she ends up miscarrying her baby in the bathtub while Loriss cleans her wounds. Sustin shows remorse, saying, “I shouldn’t have beaten her like I did.” Loriss responds, “You did what was right.”

In Jug Face, the women of the community are shown upholding the patriarchal standards that have been in place for hundreds of years. They relegate themselves to the positions of loyal and unquestioning wives and mothers, and in doing so are agents of their own oppression. Even when Sustin is killed by the pit, Loriss steps into his place and continues to enforce the community’s self-imposed rules. In this way, she in particular represents the type of women who aid in the writing, passing, and enforcing of laws like S.B. 8. It is not just cisgender men who aim to control AFAB people’s bodies, fellow AFAB people are often right beside them, upholding the patriarchal system upon which America is built.

In the footage of Governor Abbott signing the bill into law, we see a cluster of people behind him, several of them women, all smiling with pride at what is being done. However, the aspect that is conspicuously missing in legislation that effectively punishes AFAB people for unintended pregnancies is any kind of responsibility on the part of the father. 

Facing the Consequences of Your Actions

Jessaby, Ada’s brother and the father of her child, refuses to talk about their relationship. He tells Ada that she’s “on her own” in regards to reconciling for her sexual activity. When word gets out that she has been “fooling around,” he threatens, “Don’t even try to hold this over me.” He completely shirks all responsibilities for his actions, even though he is equally as culpable as her for what they have done. Ada shoulders all of the responsibility, and when the pit eventually kills Jessaby, she alone is made to atone for both of their transgressions. Jessaby dies before anyone finds out about their incestual relationship and the resulting pregnancy, and thereby does not have to face the consequences of his actions.

The pit even plagues Ada with visions of it eviscerating members of the community one by one, Jessaby included; a cruel form of punishment for her perceived insolence. She is left to suffer alone and is subjected to the full weight of the blame and vitriol from the community. The character of Jessaby can be interpreted as a personification of men in America who take no responsibility for an unintended pregnancy that they caused.

His unwillingness to support Ada in any way is an example of how, with the passing of S.B. 8, a person who experiences an unintended pregnancy—regardless of whether the conception was due to rape or incest—will literally have to bear all of the emotional and physical trauma of carrying that baby to term and going through labor, not to mention supporting and caring for the child for a minimum of 18 years if they do not or cannot give it up for adoption.  But even if they do happen to have a personal support system made up of friends or family, people who cannot access proper reproductive healthcare due to laws like S.B. 8 are essentially being shunned by the American government itself. 

There Is No Escape

Shunning occurs when a group chooses to avoid, ignore and/or reject a specific person or people. In Jug Face, those sacrificed to the pit are dubbed “the shunned”. They’re doomed to wander the backwoods as ghosts in eternal purgatory. Ada is visited by one of the shunned after her miscarriage. He asks her, “You are no longer with child, why do you resist [being sacrificed]?” insinuating that if she doesn’t have her baby she shouldn’t feel the need to cling to life. Ada replies, “I don’t know.” She is unable to qualify all the things that would make a childfree life worth living, but she does recognize that her desire to live did not end with the loss of her child; she is not solely defined by her status as a mother.

Eventually, Ada relents to the pit and the film ends with Corber ceremoniously slitting her throat over its earthly chasm. Her blood drains into the ground, restoring peace to the community… that is until the next jug face is chosen. Through her death, Ada is transformed into one of the shunned, never able to leave the woods that isolated her in life. She is punished for attempting to assert her agency. Ada is ultimately prevented from ever escaping the controlling environment from which she was so desperately trying to free herself.

Our Frightening Reality

This is the frightening reality for Texans in the passing of S.B. 8, especially for those who lack the money and resources required to seek abortion services out of state. They are stuck in a devastating situation with no way out, and their cries for help fall on deaf ears as far as the politicians behind S.B 8 are concerned. They become ghosts themselves, merely vessels for the life they carry, a life that is apparently vastly more important than their own. In this way, the government is especially punishing the already marginalized poor, aiding in perpetuating the cycle of poverty which is much like the generational poverty that the members of Ada’s community experience. 

Looking back on Jug Face in today’s climate, we see the desperation, fear, and shame that Ada experiences as a woman with an unintended pregnancy caused by incest while living in a controlling patriarchal society, and it hits all too close to home. Abortion bans like S.B. 8 weaponize religion in order to control AFAB people’s bodies, much like the community’s antiquated customs that are put in place to satisfy the pit. These bans are especially detrimental to those living in poverty, as impoverished peoples have fewer resources and often lack the ability to travel out of state to seek a safe abortion.

Let Us Choose

In Jug Face, Ada wanted to save her baby but was prevented from doing so. She was ultimately prevented from living the life she desired, all because her ability to choose was stripped from her. But, what if the story was written in such a way that Ada was trying to escape in order to seek a safe abortion from a licensed doctor? Ultimately, whether she wants to keep the baby or not shouldn’t matter; at the end of the day it all boils down to the fundamental right to choose; to choose what is best for your family, your body, your mind, yourself.

When we view Jug Face with a 2022 lens and we watch as Ada is sacrificed to the pit, our hearts should ache at the resounding injustice. Through her death she becomes a symbol, a representation of the people that will perish when their ability to choose is denied and they are forced to carry out a pregnancy that will kill them either literally or metaphorically, all for the sake of appeasing a “higher” entity—whether that be a pit in the ground, a God in the sky, or politicians in the United States government. That is a terrifying notion that is scarier than any horror film.  

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