Three in 10 women will have an abortion by age 45, so there’s a good chance you either know someone that’s had one, or you’ve had one yourself. Despite its commonality, abortion is still a controversial topic, and the current administration has further escalated the debate over women’s reproductive rights — for example, Trump’s suggestion that women who have abortions should be punished (which he later took back), and Pence’s pledge to overturn Roe V. Wade. One of the ways that a society’s view of abortion is reflected is in how it’s portrayed (and if it’s portrayed) on television. A lot of TV shows that do show abortion get it wrong. They reinforce the stigma that emotional trauma and a crisis of morality are necessary components of the procedure. They emphasize that the decision to abort is ultimately dependent on the man’s reaction to the news.
But, lately, more and more shows are getting it right — and those that do elevate the discussion and promote social progress. They destigmatize this common procedure and support a woman’s right to make choices about her own body. How we see things portrayed on television is important — when I found out I had chlamydia, I resolved to take it to the grave with me because I felt so ashamed. I was sure that people would think I was disgusting, a pariah, and that future partners wouldn’t want anything to do with me. It wasn’t until I saw the “All Adventurous Women Do” episode of Girls that I was able to fully abandon the humiliation and start talking about it freely, and — even better — to start talking about it boldly. What we see on television can influence how we process our experiences.
So to find the shows that got abortion right, we used the Abortion Onscreen database, a project by University of California San Francisco’s Advancing New Standards In Reproductive Health [ANSIRH] “that aims to include all American film and television depictions in which a character obtained an abortion (or disclosed that they had had one in the past),” and Tara Rose’s Tumblr blog Remember the Abortion Episode? — “TV episodes about abortion, reviewed by a woman who’s actually had one.”
Here’s a list of 9 TV shows that got it right.
Scandal: “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”
During the day, Olivia (Kerry Washington) fights to preserve Planned Parenthood’s federal funding like an advocate boss, and that night, we see Olivia walk into a clinic to get an abortion of her own. There’s no traumatic fear or doubt. She’s certain of her decision and follows through without hesitation, showing us that abortion doesn’t have to spur an an extensive or traumatic decision-making process. After the President (her lover) finds out she had an abortion, he ultimately expresses maturity and understanding of autonomy with, “I support your choice… not that you need it.”
Transparent: “The Letting Go” and “Rollin'”
Kaya (Alison Sudol), the very hip band member of Glitterish that’s sleeping with lead character Josh Pfefferman (Jay Duplass), tells Josh that she’s pregnant and has already scheduled the abortion. Although she’s doing it to preserve her career, Josh begs her to just get married and have the baby. It’s clear to her that he’s not looking out for her best interests, and she sticks to her plan. Her body, her future, her choice.
Girls: “Close Up”
Mimi-Rose (Gillian Jacobs), Adam’s (Adam Driver) free-spirited girlfriend, gets an abortion without Adam’s input because she’s absolutely certain she doesn’t want to have a kid. Girls circumnavigates the “Well, how does the man feel about it?” pre-abortion drama and shows a character getting an abortion on her own terms with “independence and complete, unapologetic ownership of her body.”
GLOW: “Maybe It’s All the Disco”
Ruth (Alison Brie) gets knocked up by her teammate’s husband and quietly has an abortion. The show doesn’t find her debating the morality of her decision, the decision is about what’s best for her. For career and personal reasons, she just decides it’s “the wrong baby and the wrong time.” No internal conflict necessary.
Bojack Horseman: “Brrap Brrap Pew Pew”
Journalist Diane (voiced by Alison Brie) is prego with her dog-husband Mr. Peanutbutter (voiced by Paul F. Tompkins). No baby daddy drama here — he tells her that he supports her decision. After the procedure another character asks her how she feels, and she responds, “I feel shitty. I mean, physically. I’m glad I did it.” It’s important to see a character who doesn’t express regret about her abortion, just as 95 percent of real women don’t.
Sex and the City: “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda”
In the same episode where Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) decides to keep her baby (pro-choice, y’all), it’s revealed that Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) had an abortion when she got pregnant from a one-night-stand with a waiter. Wondering if she should have told him she was pregnant, she goes back to the restaurant, but the waiter doesn’t remember her or the hookup (dawg), which reinforces her decision. At first, she lies to her BF about it, but then tells him the truth, “The condom broke… okay, there was no condom… I was eighteen… okay, I was twenty-two.” Because you don’t have to be a teenager with a failed condom for it to be okay to have an abortion. And her boyfriend is accepting… because a dude should be.
Jane the Virgin: “Chapter 45” & “Chapter 46”
Although Jane (Gina Rodriguez) decides to keep the baby that’s been accidentally artificially implanted inside of her, when her mother, Xiomara (Andrea Navedo), gets pregnant, she decides to have an abortion. This was the first time a Latina woman has gotten an abortion on prime-time network TV. TV generally underrepresents people of color getting abortions nearly 90 percent of the fictional characters who gt abortions on TV are white, versus just 36 percent in real life. About 30% of American women who choose abortions are black and about 25 percent are Latino. Xo is also already a mother, just as 59% of real people getting abortions are, versus just 15% of fictional characters. And she obtained a medication abortion, which you can get up to 10 weeks after your last missed period, but is rarely portrayed on TV. Way to go, Jane the Virgin, for truly reflecting what’s going on IRL.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: “When Will Josh And His Friend Leave Me Alone?”
With two kids already, and an opportunity to start law school early, a suddenly pregnant Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) decides to get an abortion. She drinks tea in bed, and her son, who knows she had the abortion, helps her out around the house, because kids can be included in the conversation, too. She spends a lot of time weighing her family and career options, but we never see the show impose the idea on her that the abortion would be immoral. This show presented the not-often-talked-about idea that even when you’re married, it’s okay to have an abortion.
Grey’s Anatomy: “Unaccompanied Minor” & “Free Falling”
Earlier in the show, Shonda Rhimes considered having pregnant Dr. Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) get an abortion in the first season, but, because ABC was too worried about the backlash, Yang lost the child due to an ectopic pregnancy instead. “It bugged me for years,” Rhimes told Time in 2014. So when Yang was again pregnant in her 30s, Grey’s saw her undergoing the procedure while holding her husband’s hand, showing that partners can be emotionally supportive and physically present during the process.
Photos: Screenshots taken from Remember the Abortion Episode? From Amazon, HBO, Netflix, Netflix, HBO, ABC, the CW, the CW, ABC, respectively
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