Why These Are The Best (& Worst) Portrayals Of Abortion On TV In 2016

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
In this age of #PeakTV, there's still one thing television still largely ignores it when reflecting our world on the silver screen.

With a few notable exceptions, abortion often appears as an unnamed omen, threatening to suck the good morality out of the female character that dares to consider it. In other cases, a character's abortion is typically used as tragic plot device.

2016 was a relatively good year for abortion on television. There were multiple depictions of women deciding to end their pregnancies without starting a nuclear war, destroying all that they hold dear, or being generally horrible people. It’s been nice.

But on the dawn of a new administration vocally committed to hindering real people’s access to abortion, it's even more important for these stories to be told. In her new short film Lucia, Before and After, part of Refinery29's Shatterbox Anthology film series, director Anu Valia brings the experiences of a woman forced to wait 24 hours (after driving 200 miles to Texas) for her abortion procedure. It’s a visually engaging experience that gets to the nitty gritty of abortion under widespread TRAP laws.

While this isn’t the celebratory message present in some of last year’s TV abortion narratives, it accurately depicts the barriers to abortion that many people face under our nation’s current laws. If TV really wants to “get it right," showrunners should recognize that visibility for people who exercise their right to choose is no longer enough. Let’s be honest about who is and isn’t able to act on that choice and why.

But until then, let’s note some of the great— and not so great— portrayals of abortion on TV last year.
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Photo: Michael Desmond/The CW.
Jane The Virgin: “Chapter Forty-Six”
When Jane’s mother, Xiomara (a.k.a. Xo) finds herself pregnant, the choice she must make is almost a no-brainer. She was a teenage-mother to Jane, who now has a child of her own. Xo is still trying to figure things out in her own life, and raising another child isn’t in the cards. So, she gets an abortion and then moves on with her life.
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Photo: Courtesy of The CW.
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 decides to get an abortion. She drinks tea in bed, and her son helps her out around the house. She’s not having a moral crisis about it. Even though there is no shame about her decision, Paula doesn’t immediately tell her best friend about it.

There is added complexity here, showing how women talk about their experiences, and reminding us that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all model for how women should feel about their choices.
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Photo: Cliff Lipson/SHOWTIME.
Shameless :“NSFW”
Gallagher big sister/matriarch, Fiona, gets an abortion in this episode. She knows she’s not ready for a kid, especially since she’s been taking care of her five younger siblings since she was only a kid herself. But even more interesting, her teenaged younger sister, Debbie, is also pregnant, and refuses to get the abortion that Fiona wants her to have.

I loved this storyline because it was a bittersweet reminder that either ending or continuing a pregnancy can be disastrous. Yet and still, we have to respect people’s decisions to see their own chaos through. No one tried to ban tattoos after that one girl got Drake tattooed across her forehead.
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Photo: Courtesy of Freeform.
Pretty Little Liars: “We’ve All Got Baggage”
Spencer’s mom, Veronica Hastings, is running for state senate. Veronica’s opponent, Kristine Phillips, is running on a pro-life platform. But Phillips' daughter Yvonne (who also happens to be engaged to Spencer’s ex because… drama) had an abortion when she was younger. This information is presented as ammunition to potentially ruin Kristine’s campaign.

These are the kind of unnecessarily dramatic and high stake abortion narratives we need to see less of.
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Photo: Courtesy of FX.
You’re the Worst: "Talking to Me, Talking to Me"
The best part of this episode isn’t the matter-of-fact abortion that Lindsay chooses, but the fact that she was able to flip a pro-lifer into supporting her decision. There is hope after all.
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Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
BoJack Horseman :"Brrap Brrap Pew Pew"
While Sextina is pretending to be facing abortion, and making songs about it called “Get Dat Fetus, Kill Dat Fetus,” (because, why not?), her manager Diane and her husband are actually getting the procedure done. In a satirical twist, they're forced to watch 20 hours of puppy videos before Diane can get the procedure.
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Photo: Courtesy of Hulu.
Difficult People: "Kessler Epstein Foundation"
None of the characters get an abortion in this episode. But Julie and Billy are accidentally mistaken for patient escorts outside of an abortion clinic. In case you don’t know, some abortion care facilities need volunteers to escort patients safely into the the building because anti-choice bigots will harass them.

Speaking to my earlier point about the realities of seeking an abortion in a culture ripe with anti-choice barriers, these glimpses into the circumstances of terminating a pregnancy are necessary.
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Photo: Courtesy of ABC.
Grey’s Anatomy :“Roar”
A pregnant patient named Veronica comes into Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital and is diagnosed with terminal cancer. With less than a year to live, even with treatment, her doctors suggest that she terminate her pregnancy in order to begin radiation and chemotherapy. But Veronica insists on forgoing both cancer treatment and an abortion in order to give her child a chance to live. There are definitely pro-life advocates out there using this episode as ammunition for their anti-choice agenda. What Grey’s Anatomy should have made more clear was that finding an alternative to care is a demonstration is actually listening to what women want.
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Photo: Courtesy of Anu Valia
Lucia, Before and After
This short film, premiering at Sundance as part of Refinery29's Shatterbox Anthology film series, captures the collective moments that define one woman’s abortion experience in Texas. She is forced to get a sonogram and wait 24 hours before the procedure, a caveat she didn’t know before traveling 200 miles.
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