Abortion in Television Shows:
taken from TV Acres:
Maude’s Abortion – Producer Norman Lear introduced the American viewing audience to “Maude’s Dilemma,” a two-part episode (11/14-21/72) on the sitcom MAUDE/CBS/1972-78.
The program depicted a 45-year-old woman named Maude Findlay (Beatrice Arthur) who discovers she is pregnant and opts for an abortion. To comfort Maude, her grown daughter said “When you were young, abortion was a dirty word. It’s not anymore.”
Two CBS affiliates canceled the episodes and 32 CBS affiliates were pressured not to rerun the segments in the summer of 1973 by anti-abortion factions.
The second airing of the program gave the show a 41 percent share with 65 million people tuning in. The first time the show aired CBS received 7,000 letters; the second time around 17,000 letters of protest poured in.
This program appeared at a time when the Supreme Court had not yet protected legalized abortion (The Roe vs. Wade decision was still one year away). Reportedly, Pro-Life groups mailed Norman Lear photographs of aborted fetuses in protest.
TVs first (then illegal) abortion operation aired in 1964 on the NBC serial ANOTHER WORLD when Pat Matthew’s boyfriend, Tom Baxter talked Pat into having an abortion-and was later killed by her.
In 1973, Erica Kane (Susan Lucci) featured on the soap opera ALL MY CHILDREN had daytime TV’s first legal abortion. Erica Kane sought to terminate her baby because she feared gaining weight and compromising her modeling career.
All My Children (1973):
from the pro-abortion commenter litbrit at Ezra Klein’s blog:
Erica (played by the gorgeous Susan Lucci), in the soap opera All My Children, broke ground when her character had the procedure in 1973. From wiki:
In 1973, Erica Kane made the decision to have an abortion. What made the abortion extra-controversial was Erica’s reason for doing it. She wasn’t having it done because her health was in jeopardy, but because she didn’t want to gain weight and lose her modeling job. The abortion story got much media attention, especially since Roe v. Wade had been decided just a few months before the story began airing. Erica developed a potentially fatal infection after having the abortion, and the switch-boards at ABC lit up with calls from doctors and nurses, offering their medical opinions on how best to treat the character’s case. The controversy didn’t hurt ratings, which rose from an 8.2 to a 9.1 Household rating.
So my question is: why does television and the media treat this subject as something that is still up in the air and therefore the only safe plot is for every pregnant tv character to “choose” life?
What motivated me to write this post was a recent episode of the one of my favorite shows, “Army Wives” in which one of the characters, Joan, is faced with an unwanted pregnancy and must decide what she wants to do. Only, she doesn’t decide for herself, she ends up letting everyone else, particularly the men, decide for her. Now it is clear from the start that she does not want to go through with the pregnancy. She is a high-ranking military commander and her job is very important to her. She finally tells her husband and her commanding officer (is that the correct terminology?) that she is going to terminate the pregnancy and tries to ignore their over-dramatic looks of disapointment, the way a father would look at his daughter for breaking the rules. In the final scenes we see that she had gotten as far as laying on the exam table as the doctor prepped her for the abortion, but ultimately decided not to go through with it. Her reason? She tells her husband, Roland, that she realized he would “make a great father.” Now I realize that choosing also includes the option of keeping the baby and I totally support that, but Joan wanted the abortion and simply caved under pressure. It was as if the writers had to some how tweak the logical storyline so that she would “choose” to go through with the pregnancy. The message that I was left with at the end of that episode was “Well you can consider (italics) abortion and you can even get really close to getting one because it is your choice, just as long as you don’t go through with it because, hey, you have to draw the line somewhere.” Joan surpasses her own judgement and does what is portrayed as the “right thing.” As if that was the only way there could be a happy ending.
My favorite treatment of abortion, though, was on the show “Arrested Development.” Teen George Michael, who’s in awkward love/lust with his cousin Maeby, learns from his grandmother that Maeby’s parents Lindsay and Tobias couldn’t get pregnant and therefore Maeby was “made in a cup — like soup!” Therefore he has reason to believe they may not actually be related, stoking his flames of now-possibly-appropriate passion. For confirmation he asks his uncle GOB, “Has Aunt Lindsay ever been pregnant?” GOB replies, “Oh, sure…dozens of times.” Dozens of times. How awesome to have a throwaway line like that, to just imply that she’s had scads of abortions for laughs! Mitch Hurwitz won my heart forever for so deftly using abortion in such a playful and balls-out manner.
“our take on Planned Parenthood”?
I mean, is there a “take” to have? Seems to me that’s only the case if you’re anti-choice, which is kind of the answer to the question right there…
I agree, I can’t think of many examples of handling of abortion that I’m happy with. However, I will take this opportunity to bring up, once again, my very favorite show in the universe, Battlestar Galactica, which has some of the STRONGEST female characters on television (sadly, they just announced today that next season will be its last 😥 ). There was an episode of BSG specifically about abortion. A young woman snuck onto the Galactica because she wanted to have an abortion, and her parents/colony were very religious/conservative and refused to allow it. She goes to the ship’s doctor, an older gentlemen who’s very sympathetic, who basically explains to her that she can request asylum on the Galactica, which she immediately does. This leads to a huge dispute among the various colonies, and then the president has to sort out what to do about abortion. Literally the entire episode discusses abortion and looks at it from a lot of angles.
The basic setup of BSG is that there’s been a massive genocide of the human race, and there are less than 50,000 humans left in the universe. So among the things the president (a woman, btw, played brilliantly by Mary McDonnell) has to take into consideration is the fact that people need to have lots of kids in order for the human race to survive. So she’s under intense pressure to sign a bill that will outlaw abortion, both from the religious colony and from people worried about the survival of the species. And it’s cool because you see the struggle she’s under — she’s clearly pro-choice and thinks it’s absolutely wrong to tell a woman what to do with her own body. But at the same time she’s very aware of the fact that humans may die out in the next generation or two if something isn’t done. She’s also extremely sympathetic to this young girl and doesn’t want to force her to have a baby. Ultimately she decides to sign the bill, but not until after pulling kind of a sneaky political maneuver to get the girl in question the abortion she wants (the girl actually survives and everything, too). Even though I didn’t like that, in the end, they outlaw abortion, I just loved how the episode treated it, and how it was acknowledged to be an important issue. As a pro-choicer, although I was irritated with the outcome, I didn’t feel like it was pandering to the religious right. I felt like it was a difficult decision made under extreme circumstances and I felt like the writers handled it really well.
TLF, I’d forgotten about that episode of BSG but thanks for reminding me. One of my favorite moments is at the end after Roslin’s signed the bill and the delegate from Sagittaron (?) asks her for the girl and Roslin says “I expect she’ll want to rest, she’s been through a very stressful procedure” and when the delegate starts to get indignant Mary McDonnel says “you have your pound of flesh” with all the pent up fury and frustration someone like Roslin would feel in that situation. Wonderfully nuanced, that whole episode.
from a pro-abortion commenter at this site:
I’m hoping someone will write about the horrific episode of Boston Legal that was just on, which completely demonized abortion and teens who get pregnant. I’m pretty fired up about it right now, but I’m pretty sure it will still be striking in the morning.
Cagney and Lacey:
from a commenter at this site:
On a Cagney and Lacey episode the dark haired one admits to having an ilegal abortion years before.
from a commenter at this site:
Another show that you might want to look into that I haven’t seen mentioned is China Beach. The episode features a USO worker who gets pregnant by a soldier. It’s told backward (like Memento, only before that movie was made) and shows the main character, Murphy, who is a catholic and a nurse, trying to convince the USO girl not to get an abortion. The other woman lead character in the show, a practical take-no-nonsense American prostitute, helps the USO worker find an abortionist.
It was very well done. The USO worker’s motives are examined; she wants to keep helping other soldiers, only not with sex. Murphy’s views are heard, and so is the other side’s. And at the end, the USO worker finds out that the soldier she’d had sex with was killed in action, making her choice a practical one, but bittersweet. She continues on with her job.
from a commenter at this site:
CSI’s last episode… involved the apparent murder of a young woman who was 8 weeks pregnant. CSI checked her browser history and the night of her death, she’d been searching for local abortion clinics as well as checking out adoption services. The investigators acted fairly sympathetic and nonjudgmental towards her situation.
That was about it, though; the story quickly veered off in another direction (i.e., away from the baby daddy and bf).
(Episode 908, ‘Young Man With A Horn’, 12/4/08)
Days of Our Lives:
Days of Our Lives had an abortion storyline. The character had the abortion, got a nasty infection and was left infertile. She also felt guilty, too guilty if you ask me.
from a commenter at this site:
In deadwood season 2, Alma Garrett realizes she’s pregnant with Seth Bullock’s baby, who’s married. Trixie (“the whore”) talks to her about the possibility of abortion (Trixie discusses having had abortions in the past), but in the end Alma decides to keep the baby. In order to avoid being a single mother, she ends up marrying an aquaintance, Mr. Ellsworth (who Trixie convinced to propose to Alma). In the third season, she loses her baby. Interesting discussion of abortion & women’s choices during 1870s America.
OK, so who watched Degrassi growing up? I know that it was uberpopular in Canada, but I don’t know about the reach into the states.
Degrassi (and maybe the next generation that is currently on) is about high school kids and it’s full of teen drama, but it treats the characters realistically. It was on in the late 80s/early 90s (I think, I could be wrong because I only watched it in reruns later). I would totally nominate Degrassi for a best television portrayal of dealing with unwanted pregnancy.
I don’t know for sure the details of the specific episodes because they aired originally over 10 years ago, but there was a plot line where one of the twins decides to have an abortion. But it even showed the antichoice protesters outside of the abortion clinic. Then there was Spike’s story line, who decides to carry to term and raise her daughter with the support of her family.
Degrassi was awesome for me when I was growing up. It was one of those shows that talked about issues but didn’t make it after school special-y. The characters on Degrassi dealt with issues like abortion, suicide, HIV/AIDS and drunk driving – and those are only the ones I remember.
my vote goes to degrassi: the next generation. the 2 part episode about manny and craig and manny’s abortion was fantastic, and later in the series liberty gets pregnant and debates what she will do and ends up giving her baby up for adoption and this season they added a new character, mia, who is a single mom who stays in school and involved in after school activities. i like that they portray teenage moms as real human beings instead of losers whos lives are over.
the oc story line was good too, kirsten was so honest and supportive about her own abortion.
Cranberry Bird–Degrassi: The Next Generation is in its 6th season I believe, on CTV and airing on an American cable network The N. It has followed Spike’s daughter Emma, Joey Jeremiah’s step son, and Snake who is a teacher at Degrassi, and all the wonderful drama at Degrassi. A few years ago Joey’s step son got Emma’s best friend Manny pregnant. She had an abortion and it was portrayed very well. Except that the American network who runs the shows refused to air the episode at the time. In the past year they finally did air the two episodes that dealt with Manny’s abortion. But I was just blown away by the fact that this show that has dealt with soooo many mature topics, from rape to STDs to domestic violence, couldn’t get the yanks to show this very honest episode about the big A.
Degrassi the Next Generation handled it pretty well, when Manny gets pregnant, and she talks to Spike, who of course had a baby (Emma) young, and Emma (her bff) says that she is against it personally, but yells at Manny’s boyfriend Craig for thinking he should stop her so they can start a family in high school. Manny feels no guilt but she does have to deal with the whole school knowing. The episodes were good, though the pregnancy was started because she wasn’t on birth control and didn’t insist on a condom whereas he thought she was on birth control, which arghh! especially since these kids got their sex ed from Sue Johnson, but still, great episodes. Naturally, they were not shown the in the US.
from the pro-abortion commenter Molly at Ezra Klein’s blog:
“Will no one admit to watching Degrassi: The Next Generation? THe infamous episode banned for years by the American broadcasters at the N? They had a two-part episode about unplanned pregnancy and abortion where the 14 year old character goes through with it and is clearly relieved to have it done.”
Not only that, but Degrassi High (the first generation) had a storyline with a teen character getting an abortion. Lots of pros and cons, but the clear message was that it was right for *her*.
Oh, Desperate Housewives. You came so close to making a statement. Standing out. Being different. Your Season 6 premiere re-introduced a weighty topic — abortion — but by the second episode, the issue was moot… Her husband Tom’s (Doug Savant) guilt-ridden facial expressions and Susan’s passive-aggressive pleading were enough to control the situation — and enough to cement Desperate Housewives’ place in the boundless field of shows that say: “Abortion is wrong.”
There was an ER episode where a mother of a horde of children passes out because she is trying to starve herself so that the fetus she is carrying would die. I think it was Abby (I could be wrong) got her to have a “secret abortion” so that her husband wouldn’t find out, he didn’t know that she was pregnant.
…the two doctors in the title hamlet in Colorado — big-city liberal Andy Brown (Treat Williams) and small-town conservative Harold Abbott (Tom Amandes) — find themselves on opposite sides of the issue of performing abortions.
But, says series creator Greg Berlanti, don’t jump to conclusions about who believes what.
“The great thing we really strove to do in the episode was to say, ‘This is a very idiosyncratic issue in terms of people’s opinions about abortions.’ Whatever their life experience is, that’s what’s going to inform their opinion, not necessarily where you believe they should be in the political spectrum.”
“The writers all had very different opinions than you would have thought. That’s the thing I kept coming back to, saying, ‘Guys, this is how we need to tell our story. The fact of the matter is, we’re sitting in a room here, and no one is coming down on this issue in a way I would expect. Let’s find a way to dramatize that with our characters. Let’s find a way to humanize just how particular this issue is for people.'”
“Maybe that, in and of itself, will be a step forward, both for the show and just for this subject matter. The reality is, not talking about this stuff, and people approaching it from both extremes, to me, is why we’re not moving toward any kind of solution.”
In “Episode 20,” written by Berlanti and Vanessa Taylor, the father (Kevin Tighe) of 18-year-old Kate Morris (Kate Mara) sends her to Dr. Brown because she is pregnant by her piano teacher, Matt (Ian Voght), who has departed Colorado for London.
Brown counsels the girl to think about it and also asks Abbott for advice. At first, Abbott tells Brown to send Kate to a clinic in Denver, but when her father presses the issue, Brown finds himself in an unexpected moral dilemma. Urged by his nurse (Debra Mooney) to speak to Abbott again, Brown is in for yet another surprise at his colleague’s reaction and the reasons behind it.
Although abortion is one of the most incendiary of hot-button issues, Berlanti feels it had to be discussed. “When you have upwards of a million teenage girls a year having an abortion, and it not being dramatized on television and not being reflected in the images that so many teenagers watch and see, it feels like a fallacy.”
“It feels irresponsible to not be portraying that image. It’s a procedure that’s happening.”
Also factoring into the story is Abbott’s Roman Catholic faith, which he shares with Berlanti.
“Catholicism and the demands of it have been something that I’ve wanted to find a way to include this year,” Berlanti says. “We really had to stay focused on the [Jewish] faith of the Browns this year … but I think next year we’ll get a bit more into the Abbotts’ faith.”
Asked how he thinks fellow Catholics will react to the episode, Berlanti says, “I hope fellow Catholics, and I hope people of all faiths, appreciate the fact that the show is willing to say, ‘All we went to do is dramatize the fact that this procedure happens, and we don’t want to shy away from the truth here, and let people make their own choices at the end of the episode.'”
Amy volunteers at Planned Parenthood in the last season.
from pro-abortion commenter MarxieVonTrapp at feministing.com:
Speaking of soaps, General Hospital’s teenage Lulu Spencer (daughter of Luke and Laura) had an abortion last summer. They addressed it really well, in that everyone was pressuring Lulu to have the baby, but in the end her family told her it was her choice and they would support her no matter what. She had the abortion and struggled with the aftermath of her choice, which I think is fairly realistic.
from a commenter at this site:
In Gossip Girl, Serena’s mother Lily van der Woodsen was in an “institution” in France when she was 19 and Rufus Humphrey, who she is supposed to finally be with after bad timing and pining for each other for years, refuses to be with her because he finds out she actually went to abort their child.
from pro-abortion commenter MarxieVonTrapp at feministing.com:
Also, Addison Montgomery(-Shepherd) on Grey’s Anatomy had an abortion (she aborted McSteamy’s baby b/c she wanted a child, but not with him). For a while, it was good–it showed a mature, educated woman making a mature decision. Of course, now she’s infertile. I guess you can’t win them all.
Conversely, I’m completely irritated with Grey’s on a lot of levels right now, not least of which is the very clear message from the season finale that women can’t have it all (loverly, that). I get that the show’s creator has to make a show that appeals to the mainstream, but I hate the fact that this show gets so much credit for being pro-woman when it really hasn’t been since the first half-season. I actually never liked the way they handled Addison’s abortion, because she so clearly felt GUILTY about it. Like, the day comes around, and she’s moping because she feels BAD. What the f###?? She was cutting McSteamy all this slack to be a total crappy jerk about it, like she deserves some kind of punishment from him?? I hated it. Hated it hated it hated it. It made the abortion about HIM, when it was about HER, NOT HIM. I could go on and on about the disgusting male sense of entitlement over their semen when it goes into a WOMAN, when they’re usually perfectly happy to ignore it as it flows down the shower drain. Talk about inconsistency. Far as I’m concerned, men only get to act that way if they never, ever jerk off. Volunteers?
Also hated how they handled Cristina’s planned abortion. I loved that she was planning to do it… and then — whoopsie! Miscarriage, AND, as punishment for planning to have an abortion, you’re now infertile too!! Let this be a lesson to you women — Izzie, who was good and HAD her baby, gets proposals from hot dying patients and then inherits millions of dollars. Addison and Cristina are abandoned by the men they love and can never have children. Take that, uppity women!
Grey’s Anatomy: I didn’t like the miscarriage ex machina, but I did like that Christina had firmly decided to have the abortion before it happened — even though she seemed conflicted and guilty about it, it never seemed like there was any real chance of her changing her mind. I also really liked how they dealt with it afterwards. There’s a later episode where her boyfriend finds out about the pregnancy and asks her what she would have done if she hadn’t had the miscarriage, and Christina is afraid to tell him. She then has a conversation with her boss/mentor, who has just had a baby. Her boss tells Christina that even though she and her husband had been trying to get pregnant she was still worried about it when she did; and she tells Christina in no uncertain terms that she has the right to decide for herself, based on her own needs and her own life, what the best course of action is. Christina then ends up telling her boyfriend, and even though she’s anticipating that he’ll be upset, he’s actually perfectly reasonable about it and says that he “just wanted to know.”
from pro-abortion commenter carly at feministing.com:
I love love LOVE the show House but what about that completely b####### episode where House tries to convince the woman to have an abortion because the fetus needs surgery or something, and then they’re opening up her uterus to do the surgery and a tiny hand comes out (cue dramatic music) and grips House’s finger? GAH!! It made me cringe, mostly because I know a lot of people watching that were thinking “it’s really a baby! House wanted to kill a real live baby!!!!”
And (because I would crawl over hot coals to defend anything connected to Hugh Laurie) I only saw the dying-fetus episode of House the once, BUT I think I recall that even after the ‘magic moment’ with the little hand, he still insisted it was a fetus and that abortion was the only sensible option for the woman to take.
What bothered me about the episode was the woman’s pig headed insistence on continuing the pregnancy even when it was virtually certain it would kill her. Because it was her only chance to have a baby. Hello? Adopt for heavens sake and stop obsessing over gestation. Bah.
But, anyway, I think I remember a conversation between House and Cuddy after the finger-grabbing, and she’s all ‘See? It’s a baby!’ and he’s all ‘No, its still a fetus and she’s ridiculously lucky to still be alive’.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia:
from a commenter at this site:
Tv Show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” episode: Charlie Wants an Abortion (2005)
The L Word:
I was also impressed with how The L Word handled abortion. Kit’s boyfriend emphasised that he would support whatever choice she made and would not pressure her. When she ended up at the crisis pregnancy center posing as an abortion clinic, they were portrayed as nuts and she was pissed. What I really liked was how when discussing what happened with her sister and friends, it was mentioned that they should do something to support Planned Parenthood, so they did leave suggestions for viewers.
Law and Order:
from a commenter at this site:
There was a Law and Order this past year dealing with the pursuit of identifying a “gay gene” in the show a woman was murdered because she was choosing to have a child that might carry the gene. The males in her life wanted her to have an abortion.
Masters of Horror: Pro-Life:
from the imdb.com summary:
Determined to “rescue” his pregnant daughter from an abortion clinic, a religious fanatic and his sons plan a violent firearm assault just as the doctors suspect her pregnancy might not be of this world.
from the pro-abortion commenter Molly at Ezra Klein’s blog:
In Season 1 of Maude (just out on DVD), Maude had an abortion because she and Walter didn’t want to have the baby. Only the mildest reference, almost a throwaway, to the health risks of a 47-year-old woman having a baby. The decision was definitely based on “for the two of us, here, now, an abortion is the right thing.” This was months before Roe v. Wade.
I can’t believe that no-one’s mentioned Murphy Brown considering all the controversy about her “single motherhood” and Doofus Quayle talking about what a “bad example” she was. She did decide to have the baby, but gave a great speech to (I think) Frank about how it’s pro-choice, that at her stage in life this was likely to be her last chance at having a baby, she wanted him, and the choice to keep him was the best one for her. Of course, the writers got all weaselly and had her plan to marry the baby’s father, who abandoned her instead, but they did talk very frankly (if you’ll pardon the pun) about the challenges inherent in both single parenthood and abortion. (They also brought up some of the issues of having a baby in one’s forties, which was not really discussed in polite society at the time, either.)
The best representation of abortion on TV I’ve ever seen was on “The O.C.,” oddly enough. When Ryan’s first-season gf got pregnant, the mom sat her down and told her that she had an abortion when she wa her age, and that she didn’t regret it. Later, she tells her husband the story of that abortion, and he says that it was a blessing, because without it, they wouldn’t have their children now. It was really positive and low on pathos.
One Tree Hill:
from a pro-abortion commenter at feministing.com:
Worst? I think it was One Tree Hill that had their conservative Christian character get an abortion and then die in a fiery car crash the next week
from a commenter at this site:
I’m not sure if you’re still working on this piece, but ABC’s Private Practice had an interesting episode about abortion that aired yesterday evening. A new doctor in the practice performs abortions and there is a debate between the different doctors and staff about how they feel about it and why they feel the way they do. It is also revealed that two main female characters have had abortions. I think it addressed some of the complexities of the issue in a way that I haven’t seen on television before.
The Real World:
from a commenter at this site:
The Real World, Florida MTV series: one of the girls has an abortion during the show´s season.
I think I am the first to mention the abortion discussion on Scrubs- they actually discuss it, and Jordan comes to talk to them (Kim and JD) about her abortion. Its not a perfect ep- after all, its still trying to be funny- and I dislike how JD calls Jordan a whore because she got pregnant with her boyfriend’s best friend, and there’s a whole Jesus says no to abortion dream sequence- but still, very brave tv.
from a commenter at pro-Life Jill Stanek’s site:
I do remember the characters dealing with abortion on my favorite TV show, Scrubs. There was no viewpoint pushed, just three things. 1. Women that have an abortion experience pain and regret. 2. Choosing to keep the baby was the better option for the couple. 3. Jesus said “no abortions.”
The Secret Life of the American Teenager:
Unfortunately, it seems like more and more shows are doing this with their characters. In the new Abc Family show, “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” the main character, you guessed it – a teenager, becomes pregnant after a one-night stand. The subject of abortion is mentioned for a whole 5 seconds and then completely ignored. While we still do not know what she is going to do with her pregnancy, I am willing to bet money that she will keep it. Some might argue that writers do this because it gives the show a plot, but why must every plot involving a pregnant woman end the same? Is it really because it makes it more interesting or because, despite having the right to an abortion, it is still not really the “okay” thing to do?
Sex and the City:
On the “Sex and the City” episode, not only did Carrie talk about her abortion, and not only did Samantha say, “I’ve had two of them — they were fine,” (paraphrasing) but also Miranda made an appointment to go get an abortion, hung out in the doctor’s waiting room and then decided against it and left. It couldn’t have been more about abortion if it tried. I felt a little disappointed that she didn’t get one in the end, because that would have made a lot of sense for the character, but given that it set up a fair amount of “wacky baby” plotlines and a final satisfaction of their “everyone must be paired off with a member of the opposite sex” fairy tale approach with her marrying Steve, I can see why they did it, even if it was a dumb cop-out.
Let me interrupt my rant for a moment to say a word in defense of “Sex and the City,” which Susie identifies as having kicked off this trend. Chronologically, that may be true, but it should be said that Miranda’s decision took place within the context of a thoughtful and, in the end, thoroughly pro-choice examination of the role of abortion in the four women’s lives. I’m sure it surprised no one that Samantha had had more than one abortion and wasn’t the slightest bit ashamed or apologetic about it, but Carrie, the group’s everywoman and a pretty decent barometer of mainstream opinion, is also revealed to have had an abortion in her early 20s. When she visited the restaurant where the baby’s father worked back then and found him still waiting tables, without a clue who she was, the writers made it clear that her decision to abort had been for the best. Anyway, given Miranda’s personality and backstory up to that point, her decision not to abort was a genuine surprise and a legitimate piece of character development: it worked for her as well as for the show.
Six Feet Under:
I’m surprised that nobody’s mentioned the abortion in “Six Feet Under.” A classic “good abortion” — she’s not thrilled about it, but it’s clearly the right decision, and it doesn’t screw up her life.
from the pro-abortion commenter SDM at Ezra Klein’s blog:
I think somebody already got Claire in “Six Feet Under.” There’s a little bit of moral ambivalence – she has a dream about the baby she could have had – but I think it’s definitely played as necessary.
I haven’t blogged much about the just-ended season of Six Feet Under because it’s been so unsatisfying and below the level of the previous seasons, but damn if last night’s season finale didn’t make you want to go back and watch the whole season all over again to catch clues and hints of what happened last night.
Just one comment, on the storyline that had, up to the last two episodes bored me the most – Claire’s. Call me crazy, but in the last two eps, the storyline was redeemed, because it became clear to me what it had been about – the aftershocks of her abortion.
I am willing to admit that I may be single-minded, and perhaps reading too much into this, but I dunno. At the end of last season, Claire, the daughter of the funeral home family,had an abortion without telling the father of the baby, a fellow art student, about it. The whole situation was much discussed here with many of us maintaining that even unconsciously, the abortion episode, and those afterwards, were insidiously pro-life, for various reasons.
Well, this season, with hardly a mention of the abortion, Claire, never previously all together, has really collapsed. She went creatively dry, had certain other…uh..difficulties which irritated and bored me greatly and struck me as silly until I saw them as part of this bigger picture and certainly symbolic, she started getting into drug use, and then when she finally rediscovered some creative spark, it was by taking portraits, tearing out the faces from the prints, then tearing them up into small pieces, and then reconstructing them into these haunting, fragmented, barely-together pieces of people.
What brought it all together for me was the next to last ep when Claire and Russell, had an argument about his contribution to this series of works, which he claims he had a role in (and he did)…he just wanted some public credit for his contribution…she retorted that it was all her work, that he had nothing to do with it, and no right to any credit, a conversation that was repeated in last night’s episode, with Russell finally exploding in the middle of their argument about credit for something they had, he claimed, created together, “And you went and had an abortion without telling me!”
As I said, I am perfectly willing to acknowledge my bias, but still, I can’t help but think that even unconciously, some things can’t be denied.
The season was still meh. Maybe too much going on…a lack of connection to the themes of death and mortality that made it so good at first…but I’ll still watch in when it repeats to see how George got so crazy and how that brother-in-law acted in reaction to Lisa’s death…
from Radley Balko at National Review Online:
If you have seen the show, you might be curious why National Review Online would publish a piece by a libertarian singing its praises. There are, after all, a number of openly gaycharacters and plotlines. Drug use abounds, copiously and unapologetically. There is rampant promiscuity, and enough purple language to blush a sailor. Family hour, it isn’t.
But there’s something else about the show that I’ve found surprising, and that should hold some appeal for conservatives. Alan Ball and his team of writers have shown a courageous willingness to challenge Hollywood orthodoxy on the subject of prenatal life, on the moral absolute of abortion rights, and on the soul-carrying capacity of a fetus. It’s probably a stretch to say the show is “pro-life,” or even “anti-abortion,” but it has at least been sympathetic to the idea that abortion is more than a mere personal choice rooted in identity politics — that it is a very real decision with very real consequences, and perhaps for parties other than just the woman who chooses to get one.
Perhaps the most evident example occurs in the last two episodes of the third season, which aired this past May. Claire Fisher discovers she’s pregnant with the child of an ex-boyfriend who became an “ex” after sleeping with his (male) art teacher. Given those circumstances, that she’s 18, and a first-year art-school student herself, she decides without much hesitation or deliberation to get an abortion. We see no evidence of belabored consternation or angst. She enlists the help of her brother Nate’s ex-girlfriend (played by Griffiths), who agrees to drive her to the clinic, no questions asked.
It’s at the abortion clinic that the show begins to diverge from traditional Hollywood portrayals of the issue. The director paints the abortion clinic remarkably frigid, sterile, and numb tones. The scene is shot with little color or depth. Claire’s emotionally detached throughout the scene, and the entire process smacks of a slaughterhouse, or as one critical reviewer put it, “a cattle-call.” Everything about the scene is spare, procedural, and devoid of all humanity — a reflection, perhaps, on the banality with which Claire made the decision in the first place. The doctors and nurses bring in one pregnant woman after another, evacuate their wombs, then send each on her way.
The weight of the abortion begins to bear down on Claire in the next (and last season’s final) episode. We see her visibly stress and eventually breakdown from her decision, or at least from the lack of thought that went into it. She’s asked to baby-sit her infant niece Maya, and the thought turns her stomach.
In the climactic scene, Claire dreams her own death, and visits her father in Heaven. We see visages of othercharacters who’ve passed on in the show’s first three seasons. After walking through a heavenly carnival with her father, Claire finds Lisa, her missing sister-in-law and mother of her niece Maya. They chat, and Claire begins to cry, realizing that Lisa’s no longer missing, but dead. But most surprisingly is that there, with Lisa, is the fetus/baby/pregnancy Claire aborted just days earlier — in the form of a warmly lit, smiling baby girl.
“You take care of Maya,” Lisa says, “and I’ll take care of her.”
The scene didn’t sit well with critics, most of whom otherwise adore the show. Boston Globe television critic Matthew Gilbert wrote:
Claire’s journey to heaven with her father was particularly awkward. It offered a poignant moment, as she sees her troubled former boyfriend, Gabe, finally at peace, but it also raised a gnawing question. Claire encounters her baby in heaven, supposedly the child she gave up a few weeks back in an abortion-clinic sequence that had horrific cattle-call overtones. By presenting Claire’s ”choice” as a baby, was Ball trying to make a big statement about fetuses and the morality of abortion? Or was he showing Claire resolve her own guilt, as the ghost of Lisa agreed to care for the ghost of Claire’s boy? It was a distracting issue.
On the entertainment site Popmatters, critic James Oliphant wrote:
An encounter with an effervescent fetus on God’s Staircase suggests a certain scattershot moral judgment, a busted compass. All Aborted Babies Go to Heaven? Is that really what the show wants to say? It makes you wonder to which side of the abortion debate, if any, the show means to tilt.
Whether the show’s writers intended to convey that Claire’s aborted fetus had a soul, or that she constructed a soul for it to alleviate her guilt, isn’t clear (we’re never really sure what happened to the boyfriend, either).
But it doesn’t really matter, either. The story arc represents a clear break from traditional Hollywood framing of the abortion debate. There on HBO — the network that produced the If These Walls Could Talk movies, not to mention a documentary on the most virulent, vigilante elements of the anti-abortion movement — the decision to have an abortion was shown to be one that comes with real, moral, weighty consequences. And it at least broached the prospect that a fetus is its own, separate person.
And that’s not the first time it’s happened.
In the show’s second season, Nate Fisher (engaged at the time) confronts an old flame (Lisa) who tells him she’s pregnant with his child — and that she’s choosing to have the baby. Keeping with the show’s habit of employing ghostly visions and apparitions, we later see Nate working late in his office. A little girl enters, about seven years old.
“Hi,” she says. “You killed me. It was about seven years ago, remember? You drove Lisa to have me killed.
Nate looks up, horrified.
“Oh, don’t get me wrong,” she says, “I don’t harbor any bad feelings or anything. I’m pro-choice. Well, at least I would be, if I were alive.”
A little boy enters.
“You killed me, too! Actually, I was miscarried by the girl who worked at that Starbucks on Fremont. I don’t think she was ever planning to tell you about me.”
The little girl then takes Nate by the hand, and the two enter the Fisher living room. It’s filled with a dozen or so other kids he fathered that were either aborted or miscarried — all with real faces, real voices, real personalities. His mother (Ruth) then enters with a tray of cookies and milk, beaming first at Nate, then at the houseful of grandchildren she’s always wanted.
Again, the writers leave it to us to decide what to ultimately make of the scene. An affirmation of an anti-abortion position? Or merely the apparition of a character in conflict? Is it both?
That we’re even offered the opportunity to make such a decision — that the concept that aborted fetuses might have become real kids with bodies, voices, and opinions was ever delivered to us — is a welcome but aberrant gift from Hollywood.
Nate, incidentally, is so taken by the scene that he eventually marries Lisa, and for a while plays the devoting, doting father to Maya. But not for long. When Lisa leaves to visit her mother at the end of last season, he shares a kiss with an old flame, just a few feet from the baby. The writers punish him by killing Lisa off three episodes later.
I suspect many conservatives will no doubt miss this terrific drama due to its coarse nature, dark themes, and its forgiving portrayal of homosexuality.
That’s too bad. Because within that framework, Six Feet Under is in many ways one of the most morally instructive dramas on television. It’s rich with human frailty and failure, one of the many reasons why it’s so watchable and authentic.
But the show refuses to punish its characters for human failures, the kinds of lapses in judgment and temporary faults we’re all guilty of from time to time, the kind that make us mortal. It’s only when they refuse to take responsibility for those mistakes that Six Feet Under’s writers discipline their characters, often brutally.
on the sopranos, adriana tells how she had an abortion years earlier that left her unable to ever bear children. her fiance responds by beating her and calling her “damaged goods” and she later gets killed off the show.
from a commenter at this site:
supernatural had an episode where a faith healer uses a spirt to kill an abortion clinic worker so that the healer can save someone they consider moral.
from pro-abortion commenter Jessica at feministing.com:
I remember a great episode of the now-cancelled Third Watch where one of the cops decided to have an abortion; she already had a couple of kids, they couldn’t afford another, her hubby was a recovering alcoholic, etc. I thought they handled it really well…anyone remember that one?
from a commenter at this site:
Also, several episodes of Veronica Mars deal with abortion/unplanned protection. The ones that come to mind are 3.12, 2.9/2.10, 1.14
There’s an episode of Weeds where the son throws a fit because his girlfriend has an abortion (he was obsessed with her, and had poked a hole in a condom intentionally when he found out she was leaving for college). There’s a scene where he’s texting her possible baby names, and shows her looking really distraught and deleting the names from her email. She does end up getting an abortion and he goes to her house and tries to break in to see her, only to get punched by her father. After his mom comes to get him, he locks himself up in his room and his mom tries everything to get him to come out, and finally succeeds – by offering to buy him a car.
go to this page for some more…