Feminism / TV

There Ain’t No Easy Way Out: MTV’s “No Easy Decision” Features Teens Choosing Abortion & Bravely Sharing Stories

People feel a range of emotions and hold a wide swath of opinions when it comes to abortion.  But even amongst some who consider themselves pro-choice, they may not wish to discuss teens and abortion.  While we’re starting to see more shows handling teen pregnancy, we still rarely see teens choose abortion, even though they often do in real life.  Yet MTV (much to my surprise) tackled the controversial topic with dignity and grace.

When I heard there was going to be a TV special on teens and abortion, I was thrilled.  When I found out that special was created by MTV, my elation rapidly waned.  I’ve blogged in the past about MTV’s 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, two mesmerizing train wreck shows which may possibly be the best forms of birth control out there.  So with excitement and trepidation I watched the 30-minute documentay No Easy Decision, which features Markai, one of the young women from the latest season of 16 and Pregnant.  When Markai, who already has a daughter with her boyfriend James, finds herself pregnant for a second time, she contemplates and ultimately goes through with an abortion.  The special also featured two young women, Katie and Natalia, who also had abortive procedures.  Dr. Drew Pinsky hosted and interviewed the young women.  While I loved Dr. Drew on Loveline with Adam Carolla, is it me or hasn’t he lost ALL credibility with his stint on Celebrity Rehab?

While 16 and Pregnant has covered aspects of teen parenthood and adoption, abortion had never been discussed as a viable option on the show.  Writer Jessica Valenti (one of my feminist icons), author of The Purity Myth and Full Frontal Feminism and co-founder of the amazing website Feministing, was also surprised by this omission.  She told ABCNews.com,

“It just struck me as odd that MTV was taking such care to present this issue [teen pregnancy] responsibly, that it seemed like a glaring gap not talking about abortion.  Nearly a third of teen pregnancies end in abortion. They should be represented…I’m looking forward to seeing young, smart women talking about their abortions and how their lives are better because of it — like they were able to go to college…I think too often abortion is so stigmatized…It’s something we should be constantly talking about, because it’s constantly happening.”

MTV teamed up with Exhale, a non-profit that provides women with post-abortion counseling, to create the documentary.  In a press release, MTV stated their reason for airing the special:

“It’s important we cover every aspect of this issue, including focusing on prevention by encouraging widespread use of contraception and making sure young people are aware of the consequences of unprotected sex.”

In addition to consequences, “No Easy Decision” conveys just how much misinformation needs to be dispelled.  Markai believed she was protected as she receives the Depo-Provera birth control shot.  But she missed a shot and fails to use a back-up method, believing the hormones are still in her system.  When Markai discovers she’s pregnant with her second child, she and James weigh the options.  Markai has graduated high school but is currently saving for college.  Both fear being able to financially provide for two children as both come from impoverished backgrounds and already struggle to support their daughter.  Luckily, Markai has a strong supportive network including her mom, sister and best friend.  This was great to see as we’re often bombarded with negative stereotypes of African-American families.  Even James, whom she has had a tumultuous and violent relationship with, provided comfort and support in this situation.  Although I’m dismayed that they downplayed the domestic violence, a serious crisis in our society.  While he shared his thoughts and fears, James told Markai that it was ultimately her decision (which it was of course but still nice to hear a guy say).

I was thrilled that MTV filmed Markai calling an abortion counselor, who explained the procedure (pill vs. medical light suction), as well as the physical and emotional side effects.  After much deliberation, Markai decides to have an abortion.  They don’t show the procedure due to patient confidentiality and to maintain privacy.  Afterward, Markai struggles with feelings of remorse, particularly when James to refer to it as a baby and Markai says she needs to think of the fetus for what it is, a bunch of cells.  Markai says,

“Maybe god had a plan for us.”

To which James replies,

“God gave us brains so we can make decisions.”

But Markai, while conflicted, comes to terms with her choice as she says,

“Nobody ever wants abortion…I wouldn’t choose abortion as the number one choice for everyone.  But this is the best choice for me.”

The show then shifts to interviews with Dr. Drew and the three young women.  Dr. Drew (almost) redeems himself when he proclaimed,

“Abortion is one of the safest and most common medical procedures in the US… Having an abortion is not uncommon but talking about publicly really is.  1 in 3 of all women in the U.S. will have an abortion in their lifetime.”

Katie, who was 20 when she had an abortion, thought she was “taking birth control effectively.”  She was taking the pill but throwing up, essentially throwing up the hormones so she was not protected.  Regarding her decision, Katie says,

“My decision to terminate my pregnancy was kind of a parenting decision in a sense.  I acknowledged it as a baby and for me it’s a parenting choice.  And that dialogue is not out there at all.  People assume that if you have an abortion it’s because you’re denying the right, the fact that you’re a parent. But it’s not, it’s not at all.”

Parenting as the impetus for an abortion is an aspect most people, even those pro-choice, don’t discuss.  Markai also made the decision to terminate her pregnancy due to wanting to provide a better life for her daughter.  Many anti-choice supporters claim that women callously or selfishly terminate their pregnancies.  But some women opt for abortion for the sake of their families.  Often times abortion is the responsible choice.

Natalia, 17 at the time of her abortion, went to a judge to get a judicial bypass as she “lived in 1 of the 35 states that requires parental consent.”  Just when we think we’ve achieved equality, we need to remember that not everyone in the U.S. has equal reproductive rights.  Natalia said it was like “begging for permission to make your own decision.”  She also talked about the cost of an abortive procedure $750, which she paid for with money from her ex-boyfriend and by selling back her prom ticket.  It was great to hear that as we don’t often hear about the costs nor the sacrifices people make in order to afford abortions.

Natalia and Markai both said that they didn’t want to tell anyone (even though Markai did) because they didn’t want to disappoint their families.  Markai also discussed how she couldn’t go through with an adoption because she would have already bonded with the baby.  Katie and Natalia echoed those sentiments.

But my fave moment in the show came when Natalia, expounding off of Katie’s comments on what society does and doesn’t discuss, boldly declared,

“…And just the shame and there shouldn’t be. In retrospect, I’m not ashamed at all.  I’m proud of what I did.  And sometimes it’s the responsible choice.  And I think sometimes people look at it that you’re shirking your responsibility; that you’re taking the easy way out.  And girls need to know that they’re not alone and that a lot of people go through this.  And it’s okay to talk about it.”

Yes, yes, a thousand times YES!  Love this woman!  When Dr. Drew asked what she hopes for, Markai said,

“I want women and girls to know they’re not alone…it’s the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make.”

It’s so important for women to know they do not have to face this alone, that there are people they can talk with and people who care.  Exhale launched the website 16 and Loved, a campaign to provide support to Markai, Katie and Natalia, who all shared their stories.  Words of love and encouragement from complete strangers poured in on the website.  Pro-choice feminists like Valenti, Steph Herold, Jamia Wilson, Lynn Harris and Shelby Knox also live-tweeted/blogged during the episode. It was fantastic to read their insights and see people support these young women’s decisions.

While I was worried about how MTV would handle the topic, the show never felt exploitative.  It showcased real women tackling difficult choices.  And while I could nitpick about how the show was hidden at a timeslot of 11:30pm, that it felt rushed or that I wish they had discussed the procedure in greater detail, I’m grateful MTV aired the episode at all.

Abortion is often considered a taboo topic yet we need to talk about it openly.  Teens (and younger) need comprehensive sex education and access to condoms and birth control.  Many people, particularly parents, don’t want to think about teens having sex.  But burying our heads in the sand won’t improve the situation.  Teens are going to have sex and we need to equip them with information so they can make responsible choices.  And one of those choices is abortion.

Dr. Drew ended the show perfectly when he told the young women,

“You’re so courageous.  Hopefully it’ll inspire each of us to be more compassionate and to really think about this and realize there are just no easy decisions.”

Like the young women said, women of all ages who’ve had abortions are not alone; many women have made that same choice.  Hearing women’s stories and discussing it in a public forum, helps to de-stigmatize abortion.  As I’ve written before, we will never know the private pain someone faces.  We don’t know what it feels like to live another’s life and face their difficult choices.  What right does anyone have in telling a woman what to do with her body?  Women shouldn’t feel shame for the choices they’ve made.  Markai, Katie and Natalia bravely shared their stories and let us into their worlds.  They show sisterly solidarity as they wipe away their tears and hold each other’s hands.  Maybe other young women facing an unplanned pregnancy or who’ve had an abortion will feel less alone after watching the show.  Perhaps others will be touched by their words, becoming less quick to judge and more capable of empathy.  I hope more shows discuss abortion and more women feel empowered to discuss their experiences.  Perhaps then we can truly embrace a culture of choice.

You can watch the full episode of “No Easy Decision” and the extended interviews at MTV.com.

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9 thoughts on “There Ain’t No Easy Way Out: MTV’s “No Easy Decision” Features Teens Choosing Abortion & Bravely Sharing Stories

  1. It’s important that they focused on the fact that women are not waltzing into abortion facilities. It’s a cruel decision that life and circumstances has laid upon these women and I’m glad that MTV seems to have shown the thought that goes into it. It’s not just about the fact that you don’t want a baby, it’s about your other children, your family and your future.

  2. My sister, who’m works as a lab technologist at a MAJOR Hospital in Boston, was relaying a story about a woman who needed blood, while undergoing an abortion.
    (my sister works in the blood bank).

    I was surprised to learn two things:
    First, the abortion unit is in an undisclosed location, for safety purposes (patients & staff).
    Second, the person collecting the bags of blood, had to be accompanied by a guard, as they came to & from said unit.

    All i could think was, “Wow, these poor folks not only have to worry about getting a procedure done or tending to a patient, they also have to be secretive & avoid the nutjobs.”

    The poor woman nearly died, but they got the blood to her in time!

  3. Well, this is infuriating, of course … yes, these stupid, callous young idiots aren’t waltzing into abortion clinics to kill the living beings inside their wombs – they’re walking into abortion clinics to kill the living beings inside their wombs. You’ll pardon me if I don’t see a whole lot of difference. Except that now, apparently, their hypocritical cowardice is part of a “culture of choice” – when did this become a ‘culture’? Will it get its own holiday, maybe Acid-Wash Wednesday? Who has the right to tell a woman what to do with her body? I do: if she wanted to use an arm of her body to point a gun at somebody’s head, I’d have the right to forcibly compel her to stop – every human ethical code since Hammurabi has given me that right. The only complicating factor is that the life in question here is living inside her body, dependent on it for survival … and that’s no complication at all. A one-month-old baby is every bit as dependent on its mother, but if her ‘culture’ tells her to kill that baby, she gets convicted of murder and sent to jail. The reason for all those armed guards Julian mentions is obvious: these stupid, callous young idiots are getting all teary and hand-holdy because they’re committing MURDER. That tends to rile people up.

  4. As a mother, I must respectfully disagree with Steve on his point regarding the dependency level of a one-month old baby. While a young baby is admittedly dependent on caring adults (not necessarily a mother) for assistance with activities such as dressing, eating, and bathing, a zygote, blastocyst, embryo, or early fetus, on the other hand, is completely dependent on the mother for respiration, circulation, pre-digestion of food, locomotion, elimination of waste…pretty much all the basic bodily functions. So that is a complication. In what sense is it murder to “kill” something that by most definitions, doesn’t even “live” in any meaningful sense yet?

    Also, I think Hammurabi’s code is a strange choice of example for a moral code–an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth? Really?

    Finally, the fact that the fetus will not get to continue developing cannot be the only factor in the decision to have an abortion. What about the fact that the parents and their other children may otherwise fall into poverty, which we all know raises risk factors for a host of illnesses, lost opportunities, and earlier death. The addition of another mouth to feed is no small expense, I assure you. If the cost of a $750 abortion is a hardship, how is a teenager (maybe with a high school diploma, maybe not) supposed to pay for prenatal care and delivery, let alone the next 20 years or so of food, medical care, clothing, shelter, and day care or schooling?

    The young women on the show chose a better life for themselves and their families. They also chose to go on the show, not to promote abortion as the best option in all cases, but to say it was right for them at that time–yet still not an easy decision. I think this show should, like 16 & Pregnant/Teen Mom, serve as a birth control PSA. The fact is that they wouldn’t have gotten abortions if their birth control worked–we need to make sure that girls AND BOYS are taught all the methods, how they work, and what will cause them to fail. Because whether they abort, adopt, or keep the baby, the consequences are huge. I think that is what MTV was trying to convey, and I applaud them for it. So please un-rile yourself.

  5. It’s difficult to un-rile myself, but your sweet reason makes it a little easier! And your point about the total dependence of an embryo is well taken – but it underscores what I was saying: that embryo is a human life. How it arose and what state it’s in are immaterial – once you have a human life, it has to take priority over everything else (hence my invocation of Hammurabi – for the paramount sacredness of human life, although of course ancient codes of ethics still narrowly restricted what constituted ‘human life’ – no women, no slaves, etc. – and we look down on them for being so limited in that way, when our own hypocrisy stares us in the face). Yes, raising a child is expensive – but these lazy young idiots (proper birth control instructions? Please! These idiots might not be fertility doctors, but they all know where babies come from – and that babies are the risk of DOING what makes them …. the plain truth here is that they were all willing to take that risk, which is repulsive point-shaving on their part) don’t have to raise their children – mothers unable to care for their children have been giving them up for adoption for thousands of years. It’s a heartbreaking choice, but it’s the ONLY moral one – once there’s life, all other ‘choices’ become unethical. And we don’t even need to quibble over what constitutes ‘life’ – once there’s a human genetic code in existence that’s different from either the mother’s or the father’s, that’s it, that should be the end of the discussion about whether or not to let that life continue. I mean really – let me ask you, Sarah: don’t you find anything just the slightest bit self-serving about the young women on this show? Doesn’t the very extent of their self-justification hint that they’re feeling well-deserved guilt? That they’re trying to get validation for a decision they know was fundamentally wrong?

  6. But Steve, the girl on MTV said, “They’re justa buncha cells.”

    I must admit, i was reading with an open mind, until i reached the line: When Markai found herself pregnant for the second time…

    Hmmm. how did that happen?

    And there’s no real accountability, just the excuse that she missed her birth control shot that day & didn’t think she needed a back-up method.

    If i’m 15, 16 years old, coming from an impoverished background, and i get pregnant, and i give birth to this child i have no resources to care for, and then it happens AGAIN…

    Well, i think i’d be the last person to be giving advice to promiscuous teens on MTV.

    Not everybody learns from their mistakes, but let’s face it:
    That is a huge lesson not to learn from!
    If i got pregnant at 16, i think i’d be traumatized into a life of celibacy (a joke).

    I may convey a “muddled, middle of the road opinion”, as i do support a woman’s choice, but i also think there needs to be more personal accountability.
    I don’t think MTV is the proper forum to deliver that sort of message.

  7. Steve, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being self-serving…I think there was a Friends episode where Joey proved that everything you ever do is self-serving to an extent. 🙂

    But to answer your other questions: No, I don’t think that their self-justification indicates guilt (well-deserved or otherwise); nor that they necessarily believe that their decisions were fundamentally wrong. The reason I don’t believe those things is that people have the same doubts about giving a baby up for adoption, or about keeping a baby. Parents question themselves and their decisions all the time–having a doubt about yourself doesn’t necessarily mean you did something wrong, it just indicates your ability to see the world in more than just black and white. Almost no decision is 100% right or 100% wrong–there are pros and cons to everything. And the fact that someone can identify all the facets of an issue and see both the pros and cons, increases the odds of making a more informed choice which will ultimately be better for all concerned (not a guarantee, mind you, but at least an increased chance).

    Julian, I do share your disappointment that a teen mom would become pregnant again. Why do large families seem so much more common among people who can least afford it, mentally/emotionally/financially? Are they so overwhelmed, they’ve given up, or is it a chicken-and-egg thing? Either way, there are so many events & circumstances that lead up to an unintended pregnancy, I think it’s unfair and short-sighted to just condemn the woman at the end of that chain of events. Unless those underlying risk factors are dealt with and addressed, I think it’s highly likely that history will repeat itself. But how many teen moms have that kind of time, support, and resources?

    • Hi Katie! Thank you so much for commenting on my article. It means a lot to me that you enjoyed it. And thank you for courageously sharing your story on national TV. You’ve helped many young women who’ve had abortions realize they’re not alone as well as showing there is no “typical” abortion experience. Everyone faces unique circumstances and should never feel shame for their decision.

      To answer your question, I hit “print screen” at the scene I wanted when watching the video online. Then I opened the program Paint and hit the “CTRL” and “V” buttons to paste the image into a new document. Then I cropped the edges, saved it to my computer and voila…uploaded it to my blog post.

      P.S. I love your blog too!

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