Remember the Abortion Episode?
December 26, 2015 10:42 AM   Subscribe

TV episodes about abortion, reviewed by women who've actually had one. The recent episode of Scandal was excellent, as was an earlier one. The episode on Parenthood was very good. That notorious one on the The Facts of Life was terrible (and their other one wasn't much better). You know what you're getting from 90210, but you'd expect something better from House. An early treatment of abortion was on Buffalo Bill and Maude had an abortion prior to the Roe v Wade decision! There's also Felicity, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Desperate Housewives, Sex and the City, Call the Midwife, and Friday Night Lights. There's Star Trek: The Next Generation and Degrassi: The Next Generation. A full alphabetized list of reviews (to date) is below the fold.

21 Jump Street “Whose Choice Is It Anyway?”
Beverly Hills 90210 “Heartbreaker” and “The Labors of Love”
Buffalo Bill “Jo Jo’s Problem”
Call the Midwife “Episode #2.5”
Dawson’s Creek “A Family Way”
Degrassi High “New Start”
Degrassi: The Next Generation “Accidents Will Happen” pts. 1 & 2
Desperate Housewives “Being Alive”
Everwood “Episode 20”
The Facts of Life “A New Life”
The Facts of Life “The Source”
Felicity “Truth or Consequences” & “True Colors”
Friday Night Lights “May the Best Man Win”
Friday Night Lights “The Lights at Carroll Park” & “I Can’t”
Girls “Close Up”
Girls “Vagina Panic”
Grey’s Anatomy (six episodes)
Grey’s Anatomy “Unaccompanied Minor” and “Free Falling”
Hart of Dixie “The Curling Iron”
House “Sports Medicine”
Jane the Virgin “Chapter One”
Jane the Virgin “Chapter Thirteen”
Maude “Maude’s Dilemma”
Melrose Place “A Leap of Faith”
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries “Cocaine Blues”
Nashville “How Far Down Can I Go”
Parenthood “Small Victories”
Roseanne “Thanksgiving 1994” and “Maybe Baby”
Scandal “A Few Good Women”
Scandal “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”
Sex and the City “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda”
Six Feet Under “Twilight”
Sons of Anarchy “Lochan Mor”
Star Trek: The Next Generation “The Child”

Remember When It Wasn’t An Abortion Episode?
posted by McLir (40 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
did they do Jessica Jones: the one where the rape victim is like, I need an abortion right fucking now and everyone else is like, damn straight, lemme get those pills for you? Because I thought that was great.
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:54 AM on December 26, 2015 [66 favorites]

I think it would be interesting to see these plotted on a timeline, so we could see how media treatment of abortion changed over time.
posted by mystyk at 11:01 AM on December 26, 2015 [8 favorites]

The Knick handled the issue well. Abortion is a backdrop to several episodes and confronted directly in Crutchfield.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:05 AM on December 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

One of the lead characters on Halt and Catch Fire ("10Broad36") had one had an abortion. It was relatively subtle though and all you saw was her walking toward the clinic. I guess if anything's remarkable about it, it's that the show takes place in Texas and the character who has the abortion is married, fairly well-off financially, and already has two children.
posted by fuse theorem at 11:20 AM on December 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

I guess if anything's remarkable about it, it's that the show takes place in Texas and the character who has the abortion is married, fairly well-off financially, and already has two children.

Good thing that H&CF is set in Texas in the past, because as of right now, that character would have to look forward to a long walk, depending on where they live. [Texas Abortion Clinic Map]
posted by Fizz at 11:25 AM on December 26, 2015 [10 favorites]

I just saw the one on a Different World rerun where Kim thinks she's pregnant. That was more realistic. I feel like the guy jumping to "let's get rid of it" or the trying to coerce the pregnant girlfriend into an abortion (with MRA type threats if she doesn't agree right away) happens more (certainly as documented on the green) than anyone cares to admit. But I liked how all her girlfriends were willing to offer her money for an abortion if she wanted one, no judgment, just understanding.

I remember the Felicity one. Later on, Ben impregnated the woman his dad was sponsoring through AA during his senior year. You'd think he'd know better having impregnated a girl before.
posted by discopolo at 11:26 AM on December 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

It should be interesting when/if Law & Order (SVU, CI, etc.) episodes are reviewed.
posted by Fizz at 11:36 AM on December 26, 2015

This is such an interesting post! I've been watching Grey's Anatomy since the beginning (it's my guilty pleasure) and it's been gratifying that the show's portrayal of abortion has evolved from pretending it doesn't exist to acknowledging that it can be a positive decision for a woman.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 11:59 AM on December 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

So one time I was really excited because there was a woman I had met who actually hit it off with me in a friend way and then pursued my friendship and I was like !!! Friend! Friend? How... Friend? So in a tizzy I attempted to clean my shitty apartment as quickly as possible and after a wonderful day of being nerdy out in public together and chatter and shopping we came back to my place where I had the brilliant plan of making something for dinner wth my! New! Friend! Omgomgomg

So we get home and we both realize that we are exhausted and the making dinner plan was terrible so we decided to order delivery and turn on the tv and relax, good thinking, right? Well a TNG rerun was on and I was like "heck yeah, she has passed all my other friend tests, surely she also is a Trekkie" and it turns out she had never watched TNG, just a little bit here and there of the classic stuff, but was certainly willing to watch it if I liked it so much.

To my dawning horror over the next forty five minutes of excruciating television we watched "The Child", an episode I had forgotten ever existed. Reader, we never hung out again.
posted by Mizu at 12:20 PM on December 26, 2015 [30 favorites]

I remember watching that 21 Jump Street episode so clearly. Detective Hoffs calls her mom at the end of the show, to "confess" to her about her past abortion. I LOVED that character as a kid and remember thinking, "Nah she shouldn't feel too bad about that, she needed to make that decision. And now she gets to be a vice cop and wear cool denim vests." Watching different "very special episodes" did actually encourage me to talk to my mom about otherwise taboo topics. When I asked my mom about abortion she told me, "I believe all babies should be born wanted." That conversation was one of my first inklings that my parents were not as ultra-conservative as much of my extended family.
In summary, my mom is the best and 21 Jump Street meant a lot to me. Thanks for this post.
On preview: Waittt or was that the rape episode? Was it both and that's why she got the abortion? I remember watching the episode, but not exactly what the episode was about! Still, it was impactful!
posted by areaperson at 12:28 PM on December 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

I wonder how much of the crappiness of the Facts of Life abortion episodes had to with the very conservative Christian beliefs of Lisa Whelchel, the actress who played Blair. Whelchel was the reason Natalie was the first character to lose her virginity on the show, because Whelchel refused to let her character do it. I wonder if the rest of the Facts of Life cast had issues with her, much like the cast of Growing Pains had issues with Kirk Cameron's evangelical proselytizing on set.
posted by jonp72 at 1:14 PM on December 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

Here is Ann Magnuson talking to Spin Magazine about the episode of Anything But Love where here character had an abortion. I wonder if they'll be able to track down that one to review.

(Actually I'd be interested in any of the research necessary when putting together a series like this, especially tracking down tapes.)

posted by themanwho at 1:41 PM on December 26, 2015

The Defenders, "The Benefactor" from 1962, which inspired a Mad Men episode of the same name, is probably the first TV show episode dealing with abortion. I think that show may still be available on DVD-R.
posted by jonp72 at 1:50 PM on December 26, 2015

one of the things i loved about how jane the virgin handled it is they showed how those you think will be pushing for abortion and those you think will be pushing for keeping the pregnancy aren't always who actually fills those roles.
posted by nadawi at 2:14 PM on December 26, 2015 [7 favorites]

That TNG episode made me feel so gross when I watched it. It is the worst.
posted by winna at 2:25 PM on December 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

How about the abortion from 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia". Charlie's mom had an abortion, but "it didn't take". And now we have Charlie.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:37 PM on December 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

I say this as a huge fan, but: I don't really think It's Always Sunny is a good example of anything, ever.
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:32 PM on December 26, 2015 [22 favorites]

Maybe uncharacteristic, but given what it is, I thought the Family Guy episode about abortion was surprisingly real.
posted by kafziel at 4:31 PM on December 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

the boat episode (rather the "it's the implication" clip) is a pretty great one to explain how creepy dudes are coming off as creepy, i've found...
posted by nadawi at 4:46 PM on December 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

I did not know I needed this, but I do! Thank you for this post.
posted by emjaybee at 5:06 PM on December 26, 2015

I'm pleased that they covered Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries! I'm just sad these reviews are limited to TV, because I think Kerry Greenwood's books (on which the show is based) handle the topic even better - and do so several times, from different perspectives.

These reviews may be a handy guide when picking TV shows to watch in the future.
posted by sibilatorix at 5:17 PM on December 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

I still remember when the abortion episode of "Maude" was in reruns (I must have been around 10 or 11 at the time, so maybe 1979?), and asking my mother what "abortion" was. I give her a lot of credit for a woman who was very strongly Catholic at the time for telling me just what it meant without any moral talk around it. It's still an incredibly striking episode of any television show.
posted by xingcat at 5:34 PM on December 26, 2015

I wrote a paper about abortion in the movies for one of my college film classes. Reflecting on that and looking at these lists, I wonder if media about abortion in the pre-Roe days is more pro-choice because of what women had to go through to terminate a pregnancy, or if it's safer to look at it as a bad-old-days thing instead of seeing how restricted abortion access is now.

(One of the few films that unambiguously deals with what women go through when they have an abortion is Hartley's Trust, which came out during the previous epidemic of clinic bombings. The trailer doesn't mention reproductive rights, but one tin-eared Amazon review does.)
posted by pxe2000 at 5:44 PM on December 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is such a cool post. It reminded me how much I love Six Feet Under, particularly Brenda and Claire.

I was always disappointed that this episode of 30 Rock didn't even mention abortion. Liz Lemon thinks she might be pregnant with loser ex-boyfriend Dennis Duffy's baby. She freaks out, then feels excited, then finds out she isn't really pregnant. I suppose a big part of the Liz Lemon character is that she wants to be a mother... but the character also regularly struggles to reconcile that desire with her feminist leanings. It feels like a missed opportunity.
posted by cranberrymonger at 6:32 PM on December 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

Battlestar Galactica: "The Captain's Hand"
posted by a lungful of dragon at 7:20 PM on December 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ten years ago, I worked for the N/Noggin, the pre-teen and tween-oriented channel with broadcast rights for Degrassi: The Next Generation in the United States. I moderated the online forums. Brightly colored customizable 8-bit avatars. Electric pastel colors. Kids could discuss Degrassi, Radio Free Roscoe, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, video games, puberty (briefly; that particular forum was pulled because we could not keep up with trolls), music, anything they wanted, so long as they did not share PII (personally identifying information) or breathe a word about AWH.

That is Accidents WIll Happen, the Degrassi episode where Manny gets an abortion. It was tasteful, as I recall. Adult. It did not make light of abortion or speak down to teens who might have to face a similar decision. It was also, by decree of the N/Noggin, not allowed to air and fans on the N forums could not mention it. Furthermore, they could not mention other character developments that occurred in AWH. All moderators received a copy on VHS and were expected to familiarize themselves with the events of the episode so we could spot transgressors. In the US Degrassi timeline, Manny was never pregnant, Toby never hacked the school computer, and J.T. never told Liberty to move on.

The moderation team worked the queue of posts pending approval. We flagged and removed references to AWH and emailed a tally to the head moderator after each shift. One night I requested eight user accounts be deleted wholesale for trying to discuss it.

This was too difficult to maintain. Eventually, the N switched to automatic approval and we patrolled the forums, flagging and deleting posts after they went up. AWH mentions slipped through the cracks. When the company allowed direct messaging, it was over. They eventually aired it with little fanfare. Thousands of US Degrassi fans that claimed there was a secret episode that only aired in Canada were vindicated. The parallel Degrassi universes realigned and merged. The secret was out. A teen on a Canadian soap opera for 13-year-olds had an abortion and it just wasn't that big a deal.
posted by son-of-ploppy at 7:57 PM on December 26, 2015 [63 favorites]

There was also a CBS schoolbreak special in 1986 about pregnant teens. The "bad girl" played by Renee Estevez was the one who got the abortion.
posted by brujita at 8:58 PM on December 26, 2015

Holy crap! Manny got pregnant and had an abortion?! This explains so much weirdly edited drama. This is like a Berenstein/stain Bears moment for me. Is this the A reality or the E reality? The censored Degrassi or the sinful free-for-all Canadian Degrassi reality? When did they merge?
posted by Mizu at 9:01 PM on December 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

What about Gloria's miscarriage on All in the Family? Or do spontaneous abortions not "count"?
posted by readyfreddy at 3:41 AM on December 27, 2015

I saw the Degrassi episode when it first aired in Canada and found it impressively mature. I do remember thinking that the US wouldn't be ready for that episode, but to go so far as to try to wipe it from continuity and shove it down the memory hole...!
posted by Jeanne at 4:22 AM on December 27, 2015

Wonder if Kevin Smith’s six grand got him the episode...
Degrassi: Never bought props (though I was given a Degrassi sweater from the 80's show by Degrassi mastermind Linda Schuyler). I did, however, buy the entire Degrassi Junior High/Degrassi High library on VHS from a scholastic video company with my first CLERKS money. Cost me like $6,000 because each tape was $99 - priced for educational distribution. When I called in '94 and told them I was a private collector, there was a long pause - as if the salesperson was asking herself "Do I wanna move units to what I can only assume is a pederast?" Now you can get that entire library for like $50 or less.
posted by blueberry at 4:46 AM on December 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

Sadly no- the abortion episode wasn't in the original Degrassi run, but the new series that aired in the early 2000s.
posted by Jeanne at 5:19 AM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

What about Gloria's miscarriage on All in the Family? Or do spontaneous abortions not "count"?

Well, a few years ago, politicians in Utah and Georgia tried to get bills passed that would require women to prove their miscarriages weren't the result of “human involvement” and, if they couldn't prove it, make the miscarriage a felony. It didn't go anywhere in Georgia, thankfully. But, Utah enacted an amended version of the bill.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:11 AM on December 27, 2015

There was an abortion episode on the original series.
posted by bq at 9:26 AM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I thought the star trek episode "the child" was anti-abortion? when was abortion an option?
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:37 AM on December 27, 2015

I thought the star trek episode "the child" was anti-abortion? when was abortion an option?

I think it was somewhere around here:

Captain, obviously the pregnancy must be terminated.


For the safety of the ship and crew.

Troi stares at the moving fetus on the viewscreen. Seeing it, alive, helpless, touches other emotions. However it was conceived, it is hers. She does not completely lose her uncertainty and apprehension, but other, stronger instincts begin to emerge.

Worf, you can't assume its intent is belligerent.

That is my safest assumption.

Captain, this is a life-form. Not to allow it to develop naturally would deny us the opportunity to study it.

If the fetus is aborted, laboratory analysis is still possible.

Is there any health risk to Counselor Troi if the fetus is aborted?

Medically, no.

Doctor, is that your recommendation?

As the words swirl around her, she knows in her Betazoid heart that the child must be born, and she makes her decision. Troi gets everyone's attention.

Captain, do whatever you feel is necessary to protect the ship and the crew... but know this. I am going to have this baby.

Everyone reacts, then:

I believe that ends the discussion.

posted by kafziel at 11:51 AM on December 27, 2015

There was an episode of Degrassi High where one of the twins (Erica) has an abortion. Which was mentioned in the original post.
posted by LynnDee at 7:06 PM on December 27, 2015

This is such a cool post. It reminded me how much I love Six Feet Under, particularly Brenda and Claire.

Seriously. At the time, I don't think I appreciated how rare it was for someone on TV contemplating an abortion to actually go through with it, much less that it was something that was brought up again later but not dwelt upon miserably.
posted by psoas at 1:03 PM on December 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

As I recall, in that 90210 episode Andrea feels the fetus kick at, like, six weeks.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:20 PM on December 28, 2015

We watched the Degrassi High abortion episode in our sex ed class in Grade 8, to teach us about teen pregnancy and abortion. I bet you can guess I went to high school in Canada.

Whenever an abortion episode comes about on a show I like I always watch it giving it the half-stinkeye, hoping that it doesn't let me down/make me abandon the show for handling it badly. I loved the Jessica Jones ep because it was basically like "That's your decision? Cool, let's make that happen."
posted by urbanlenny at 9:16 AM on December 30, 2015

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