Feminism / Films / TV

Abortion Depictions in Pop Culture: Why “Reproduction and Abortion Week” At ‘Bitch Flicks’ Is So Crucial

Abortion is healthcare — a routine, normal and legal medical procedure. 1 in 3 women will get an abortion in her lifetime. Yet we rarely witness film and TV characters obtaining an abortion or even talking about abortion.

It’s “Reproduction and Abortion Week” at Bitch Flicks (my virtual home away from home!). All week-long, the feminist film and media site is featuring posts and reviews analyzing and critiquing the portrayal of abortion, contraception and pregnancy in film and TV.

As Bitch Flicks wrote:

“For some time at Bitch Flicks we’ve wanted to focus specifically on how reproductive issues and abortion are represented in movies and television shows. A moment like the infamous “schmamortion” scene in Knocked Up — when a character can’t even speak the word “abortion” — says that Hollywood isn’t helping the reproductive rights cause.

“However, you can contrast that with the strikingly honest and realistic take on abortion represented in the television show Friday Night Lights. But there are always more than two sides to the story, and we’d like to explore as many as we possibly can.”

Our bodies have become a battleground. At the federal level in 2011, the House voted on choice-related legislation 8 times, more than twice as much in any of the previous 5 years. In 2011 at the state level, anti-choice politicians launched an onslaught of legislation stripping away access to abortion and contraception. And 2012 looks just as bleak.

Wisconsin has suspended medical abortions. Louisiana has proposed a “heartbeat bill.” Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas (with Texas as the “harshest forced ultrasound law currently in effect) and Virginia have mandatory forced ultrasounds before abortion. Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma have passed 20-week abortion bans. Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, West Virginia have proposed abortion ban legislation. Arizona just passed a “fetal pain bill,” the country’s first 20-week gestational ban or 18-week post-fertilization, essentially shortening the ban by 2 weeks. These are just some of the plethora of anti-choice legislation. Trust me, I could keep going.

Increasing barriers to abortion do not reduce the abortion rate. Instead, abortion access barriers increase abortion rates, especially those occurring in later terms. As abortion costs also increase the later in pregnancy the later they are performed, it places a greater financial burden on those seeking abortions, particularly those who are low-income, people of color and queer communities – “queer people of color, in particular, are disproportionately economically disadvantaged when it comes to mortgages, wages, and staying above the poverty line.”

Much like anti-choicers have launched an all-out war on reproductive justice, demonizing abortion and contraception, the media hasn’t done much better. While it’s not the job of films and TV shows to educate, media matters. Media “reflects and shapes our values and opinions.” It can reinforce tired tropes and stereotypes, perpetuate myths or shed light on a topic and spark dialogue. Media impacts (both positively and negatively) our perception of our bodies, our relationships and the world around us.

Some films and TV series (Maude, Grey’s Anatomy, Roseanne, Dirty Dancing, Private Practice, Friday Night Lights, Greenberg, Vera Drake, Degrassi, Sex and the City, Girls) have dealt with abortion with dignity, honesty or humor. Sadly, most have not. If 30% of women get an abortion, then it’s an experience that should be depicted in media and pop culture. Most of the time, characters who unintentionally get pregnant select adoption or keep their baby as the only 2 choices, implying that there’s a “good” or “right” choice when it comes to reproduction.

The erasure of fictional characters choosing abortion perpetuates the stigmatization of abortion. With attacks on reproductive rights, it becomes even more crucial to depict abortion. No one should be made to feel shame for exercising autonomy over their body.

Here are excerpts from some of the compelling and thought-provoking Bitch Flicks reviews already posted:

Dirty Dancing: The Dancer’s Dilemma
By Myrna Waldron

“The purpose of legalized abortion is not only to give women like Penny a choice, but also to ensure their safety. It is very telling that class distinctions still exist (and are perhaps stronger than ever) in that wealthy lawmakers continue to blame perceived promiscuity for unintended pregnancies, and wish to force women to bear children as a punishment or consequence for their actions.”

Procreation at the End of Civilization: Reproductive Rights on Battlestar Galactica
By Leigh Kolb

“When a society is thrust into time of struggle and chaos and its existence is threatened, reproductive rights and bodily autonomy are among the first rights to be taken away by those in power. Battlestar Galactica shows us, as good science fiction does, the moral struggles we face now, and what they might look like in the future.


“While America is still in the throes of economic decline, already in 2012 944 reproductive health and rights provisions have been introduced by legislatures, including many that restrict access to abortion and contraception. Much of the rhetoric used by anti-abortion and anti-contraception factions (like the monotheistic Cylons) includes the ideology that women should be mothers, should embrace motherhood and fulfill their purpose as a procreating species.

“At the same time, the US has a legacy of eugenics and sterilization. Even as recently as 2011, a Louisiana lawmaker proposed legislation that would give incentives to poor women to be sterilized. He also has proposed a ban on all abortion—again showing that reproduction is beautiful and necessary—unless the state says otherwise. Modern society is also no stranger to forced adoptions.”

The Anti-Choice Propaganda Film October Baby
By Erin Fenner

“Women get abortions – regardless of the laws on the books, and women are safer when abortion is legal. (So, that should make the paternalistic women-protecting GOP happy, right?) About 30 percent of women will get an abortion before the age of 45. And, in countries where abortion is illegal and harder to obtain, women get them at higher rates and experience greater risk to their health than where abortion is legal. As mentioned earlier, women don’t get late-term abortions because they are silly fickle things who don’t have a solid man to help them make up their minds. Women get later abortions because their health is threatened or the fetus isn’t viable. Instead of insinuating that abortion is criminal, we should be making sure the procedure is accessible at an earlier stage of pregnancy and safer at later stages of pregnancy when women do have to make that difficult decision.

“October Baby was produced and supported with funding from evangelical groups like Focus on the Family. The directors, brothers Andrew and Jon Erwin, said that this wasn’t meant to be a political movie, but rather intended to inspire thoughtful discussion. But, in their false representation of abortion they’re amplifying fear rather than appealing to viewers’ higher cognitive reasoning.”

Fingernails and Shmashmortions: Abortion and Privilege in Knocked Up, Juno, and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
By Tom Houseman

“By presenting abortion as the wrong choice, and pregnancy and birth as easy and spiritually fulfilling, movies like Juno and Knocked Up support the conservatives in the culture war, no matter how progressive they might seem to be. Movies with these messages are dangerous for women, because they drastically misrepresent reality…”

Friday Night Lights
By Amber Leab

“Decisions surrounding reproductive choice are difficult and emotional enough without state-mandated barriers and interest groups pressuring women to carry all pregnancies to term. While Friday Night Lights had a majority of its pregnant characters give birth, and some story lines were more convincing than others, the show was careful to depict each one as an individual choice, and give the women dignity and autonomy.”

Mad Men and the War on Women, 1.0
By Diana Fakhouri

“While the scarier aspects of Mad Men-era reproductive health (Betty’s twilight sleep birthing experience from season three, for starters) seem like a far-off nightmare to today’s twentysomethings, neo-conservatives’ war on women makes it clear that such arcane threats may not be so distant.”


Read all of Bitch Flicks’ posts in the Reproduction and Abortion Series!

Image via Feminist Blackboard


One thought on “Abortion Depictions in Pop Culture: Why “Reproduction and Abortion Week” At ‘Bitch Flicks’ Is So Crucial

  1. Pingback: Abortion Depictions in Pop Culture: Why Bitch Flicks’ Reproduction & Abortion Week Matters

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