It's about women's lives, first and foremost.
If there's anything this election has made us realize, it's that at least part of the cause of the chasm of beliefs in this country has to do with fundamental miscommunication and misunderstanding of ideas and people, on both sides of party lines. Abortion is one such example--while one segment of the population considers legal and safe abortion a fundamental right and necessary feature of a modern society, others consider it--to repeat a commonly used word--murder. But when you listen to a lot of the people, especially women, who oppose abortion, they cite reasons ranging from horrifying and medically inaccurate descriptions of the procedure to mothers simply praising motherhood, saying how much they love their kids and can't understand why anyone would want to terminate a pregnancy unless they were pure evil. Clearly a combination of education and empathy are needed to make anti-choicers understand what abortion actually involves, and why it's the best choice for some women.
If someone is staunchly against something, you're going to be hard-pressed to get them to watch an informational video with an open mind or read up on information that challenges their view. Something you don't have to pressure people to do, however, is watch TV. As a form of entertainment--arguably the most accessible medium there is--this is why it's so important and useful for TV shows to address pressing contemporary issues. When viewers don't feel lectured, they're able to keep empathizing with characters they already care about and maybe, just maybe, approach a heated topic in a new way.
With all of that said, there are a handful of shows that have been absolutely nailing it when it comes to representation of abortion this year. In the current season of Jane the Virgin, for example, Jane's mom Xiomara discovers that she has accidentally become pregnant from a brief affair. This comes not long after breaking up with Rogelio precisely because she doesn't want to have any more kids, having spent the last 20-plus years raising and prioritizing Jane. Now around 40, Xiomara is committed to putting her own wants and needs first for the first time since her adolescence. In a somewhat similar CW story line, Paula of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is also a mother who discovers she is pregnant again, having thought her childbearing years were over, just as she is embarking on a journey of self-fulfillment for the first time in her life—applying to law school. Both women opt for abortions, as both feel the time is not right for them to have children.
Often, abortion and unplanned pregnancy narratives revolve around teenage girls or impoverished young women. And while those stories are important as well, it's powerful to see that some of the women who opt to terminate their pregnancies aren't so different from some of the women opposing reproductive freedoms. In fact, research suggests that the majority of women who opt for abortion are already mothers. Paula and Xiomara are both middle aged and already mothers. Paula is married and financially stable, and Xiomara loves the daughter she already has with all her heart. (Paula probably loves her kids, too, but it's a running gag that she doesn't like them at all.) What these two women have in common is that while they have the social and economic resources to raise a baby, they both know that at this point in their lives, they don't want to. And honestly, no one needs a greater reason than that. They respect themselves and parenthood enough not to bring a child into the world unwanted, and not wanting another child doesn't devalue the relationships with the children they already have.
Another show that handled abortion really well in its latest season was, perhaps a bit surprisingly, BoJack Horseman. Despite being made of up of mostly emotionally stunted characters and absurdist animal humour, the animated show made an important and nuanced plot point of abortion this season when Diane, who knows she doesn't want children, accidentally becomes impregnated by her longtime boyfriend. She terminates the pregnancy, but later on in the episode a different character who is also expressly pro-choice becomes accidentally impregnated and decides to keep it. The show does a strong job of demonstrating that motherhood is not right for all women at all times, and sometimes it is right despite less-than-ideal circumstances.
The commonality between the three story lines is that in each one, the woman weighs her decision, taking several different factors into account, and the show represents their journeys without judgement, with plenty of nuance, and with accuracy—all information pertaining to the abortion practice itself is medically accurate, not glossed over and not heightened for dramatic effect. Abortion is normalized, presented as an option as valid as pregnancy (which all three shows touch upon to some degree), and emphasis is placed on the woman's choice, even when politics and faith are entered into the equation as well. And that's how it should be: only when abortion conversations are framed in such a way that prioritizes women's autonomy are we really getting to the core of it. These shows are modelling the right way to go about it, and going forwards I expect we're going to see more and more.
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