TV Makes Getting An Abortion Look Easier Than It Is

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images.
Over the past few years, many state laws have restricted how and when Americans can get abortions. But not everybody fully grasps what this means, and according to a new study in Feminism & Psychology, we may have the media to blame for that.

Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco's Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) analyzed 89 plots of TV shows like Shameless and Orange Is the New Black that involved abortions between 2005 and 2015. Overall, they didn't tend to show how expensive, stigmatizing, and legally difficult getting an abortion often is. Just four percent of characters hoping to end pregnancies were unable.

The most common obstacle characters seeking abortions faced was illegality, but they nearly always found a way around the law. In reality, research suggests that when clinics close, more women end up having kids against their will or self-inducing abortions.

Other legal requirements like parental consent and waiting periods are "portrayed as hassles" on shows like Friday Night Lights and The Good Wife, the paper reads. But in some situations, these laws can actually be the deciding factor in whether someone gets an abortion or not.

The discrepancy between TV depictions and real life may have to do with the fact that the fictional characters in these shows have more money than the average abortion-seeker.

"Television portrayals of women not encountering or easily overcoming barriers to abortion access simply do not reflect reality for many women across the country,” lead author Gretchen Sisson, Ph.D., said in a press release emailed to Refinery29. "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."
Advertisement