TV Still Can’t Portray How Hard It Is To Have An Abortion

by Jen Pitt

Earlier this year, we wrote about ANSIHR’s study of the appearance of abortion in TV plotlines and were surprised that more and more shows are dealing with the subject. However, in a follow-up study published in Feminism & Psychology which surveys abortion in TV from 2005-2015, “found that these plotlines often underrepresent the various difficulties, including legal barriers, financial constraints, and social pressures, that real women face in pursuing abortions.” Though more frequent, these depictions are still luke-warm and sugar coated — shying away from the real consequences and struggles women face when attempting to abort; social, medical, and financial issues. Though it is refreshing to see mainstream TV present how frequently this decision occurs, therefore making it an “everywoman” problem of sorts, the women the portray are often exempt from the real financial and educational of constraints of everyday women seeking abortions. As the study puts it, “Challenges that real American women face – both personal and legal – are largely absent from television plot lines.”

Why is this a cause for concern? Because many Americans (and people) obtain sexual “guidance” from TV shows. TV shows are in part meant to depict lives we know and do know, making us walk the line of relatability and sympathy. And since we do not openly talk about these subjects in our daily lives, we turn to hyper-realized TV for examples. As Gretchen Sisson, Ph.D and lead author of the publication, said, “By minimizing the very real and tremendous challenges women often face when seeking abortion care, TV shows can perpetuate misperceptions among the general public about the existence and consequences of real-world restrictions on abortion.”

Though the financial burden is real and sweeping, there are still some legal restrictions on abortion that vary from state to state. “These regulations include a parental consent requirement (Jack and Bobby), a parental notification requirement (The Good Wife), a mandated script read by the physician before the procedure, and a mandated waiting period (both on Friday Night Lights).” Similar to acquiring birth control, most (younger) women are dissuaded for having to ask their parents for an appointment for a prescription, but that does not prevent sex; legal barriers to reproductive health rarely affect sex, but take a heavy toll on women nonetheless. Can you imagine if a guy had to ask his mother for hand written consent?

Friday Night Lights copy

This study breaks down the numbers as so: In 55 percent of the abortion plot-lines, did the character seeking an abortion, get one. Only 4 percent of characters seemed to face extremely tough barriers when trying to access an abortion. For the remaining 40 percent of plot-lines, characters changed their mind and opted not to pursue an abortion; in some cases, this decision was related to the obstacles they faced. And what about the negavite consequences of that?

Come on TV, we can handle it. Can you?

Top image still from The Good Wife

Middle image still from Friday Night Lights

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