Abortion has long been part of American television show plotlines, but in recent years scripts have taken a darker turn — one that could put the popularity of some beloved television characters at risk.
Maude Findlay, the star of “Maude,” was the first character of a major TV show to decide to have an abortion.
The show was a spinoff from the famous “All in the Family.” Maude was Archie Bunker’s four-times-married cousin with sharp liberal views, and her show pushed the boundaries of feminism and other issues of the time.
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The 1972 two-part abortion episode was rejected by various CBS affiliates and stirred protests across the country, but it stopped short of what in recent years has begun to appear on television.
Today’s writing is more politically charged, aimed at trivializing and destigmatizing abortion procedures.
Over the past two years, abortion was a topic for the CW’s “Jane the Virgin,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” ABC’s “Scandal,” Netflix’s “BoJack Horseman,” and AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire.” The women behind some of these shows told Buzzfeed they are set out to show a “different” type of abortion story – one that attempts to remove the guilt and gravity of the situation and replace it with a steely indifference.
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Even on left-leaning shows, such as “Family Guy,” “Sex in the City,” and “Murphy Brown,” when characters confront the choice of whether or not to have an abortion, they usually ultimately decide to have their children.
But in 2016, lead character Lindsay on the show “You’re the Worst” casually tries to get pregnant with her estranged husband’s semen to manipulate him into coming back to her. Then, when she gets pregnant — but the rest of her plan predictably falls apart — she decides to abort the child.
Over lunch, she nonchalantly tells her friend she is “eating for two for the last time.” Stephen Falk, the show’s creator, defended the character’s blasé’ behavior. “We’re treating it [the topic of abortion] very matter-of-fact,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.
“It’s legal and it’s not to say that abortion is something that doesn’t have ramifications emotionally for the people involved,” Falk said. “But sometimes it doesn’t, and we’re trying to show that side.”
When the leading lady on “Scandal,” Olivia Pope, played by Kerry Washington, had an abortion in 2015, it was hardly a big deal. Pope was calm and steadfast in her decision. Show creator Shonda Rhimes contended it was a perfectly legal choice for her lead character to make.
Aline Brosh McKenna, co-creator of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” defended the show’s laid-back abortion-plot decision as being the best thing for the leading character’s happiness. The character’s abortion was revealed in the episode not through an emotional or serious scene — but by the character’s son saying, “Mom, I’ll get it, since you just had an abortion.”
“We didn’t have any conversations about the politics of it,” co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna told The Los Angeles Times.
And the execs of “Jane the Virgin” argued that feeling guilty about abortions is not the only narrative. “We owed the other side,” said creator Jennie Snyder Urman.
Huffington Post applauded the recent plotlines in television shows as being “wonderfully honest about abortion.”
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“[The year] 2016 gave us a small glimpse at what lies ahead — more inclusive, compelling explorations of a complex and personal choice,” said Huffington Post writer Zeba Blay.
Let’s hope Blay is proved not correct on future television programming.
We’ve been treated to a lot of abortion on television. There was the first abortion on television through “All My Children,” a daytime drama. Then there were mentions in the 1980s on programs such as “Facts of Life,” “Cagney & Lacey,” “Hill Street Blues,” “The Young and The Restless,” and even the hit movie “Dirty Dancing.”
Later in the 1990s, hit programs like “Party of Five,” “Felicity,” “Roseanne,” “Beverly Hills 90210,” and MTV’s “Real World” took up the cause.
Yet, to this day, 44 percent of Americans say abortion is morally wrong — and only 19 percent say it is morally acceptable, according to a recent Pew Research Center study.
We do not need more television storylines that make abortion seem commonplace or a callous indifference to life seem acceptable. No matter how much the new breed of television executives want to turn the issue into a happy or meaningless ending, it is not and never will or should be.