In 2004, a Canadian TV show made headlines with a controversial episode in which a pregnant teenage girl, much to the annoyance of her boyfriend, decided to have an abortion. Her mother leads her to the clinic.
Yes it was Degrassi: The Next Generation – And the infamous episode titled Accidents will happenIt was postponed to American viewers after a US cable channel decided to pull it off before it could be broadcast.
Experts point out that the midterm episode occurred during a period when images on screen of the abortion, and discussion of the procedure in films and television, were more frequent and complex, to reflect public feelings about the procedure.
said Stephanie Herold, a University of California San Francisco (UCSF) researcher who studies how abortions are portrayed in films and television.
With abortion expected to be banned in nearly half of US states following the overturning of the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling in June — and some Canadian advocates concerned about the fate of the procedure here — scholars and filmmakers say abortion must evolve to accurately reflect real-life experiences.
Watch | Why the focus on abortion has shifted to the pill:
A “disturbing departure” from reality
While the storylines have improved since the early cases of miscarriage on screen in the 1960s and 1970s, it wasn’t a perfect development, according to Herold.
The project to which Herold contributed, Abortion On Screen, began when UCSF sociologist Gretchen Sisson began looking at the history of abortion in Hollywood.
The two have since compiled a huge database of onscreen abortions, studying the race, age, socioeconomic conditions and health outcomes of characters receiving the procedure in film and television.
Herold and Sisson found that there is a huge gap between fiction and nonfiction. For example, less than one percent of miscarriages result in major complications, according to a 2014 study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology — but on screen, that number rises to 18%, more than 70 times the actual complication rate, as Herold says. .
She added that “the majority of the characters who have aborted on television and cinema are white, wealthy people, and they do not have children at the time of their abortion, which is in fact a disturbing departure from the reality of those who have aborted.”
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research company that supports abortion rights, 59 percent of abortion patients in the United States already have children; 49 percent live below the poverty line (75 percent are poor or low-income); The majority are ethnic, with black patients making up 28 percent and 25 percent of patients, respectively.
“Characters face almost none of the logistical, financial, and legal hurdles that real abortion patients do,” Herold said, which—particularly in the United States—can include out-of-state travel, finding child care, and out-of-pocket costs.
She referenced an episode of CBC working mothers As one faithfully depicting the challenges of accessing abortion in the Canadian health care system: Anne (Danny Kind) is frustrated to discover that there is a long waiting period before she can have an abortion.
TV shows like scandalAnd the Nickname: GraceAnd the IntenseAnd the Winona Earp And the radiate She has aired various events about abortion in recent years. in IntenseAnnie (Eddie Bryant) visits an abortion clinic when she learns that the morning-after pill is not effective for plus-size women.
movies like clear kid And the Never Rarely Sometimes Always Explore the emotional and logistical challenges of abortion. Finally, a 17-year-old girl from Pennsylvania travels to New York City with her cousin to have the operation, in a desperate attempt to raise the money to afford it.
“Our job is not to make choices for young people.”
“What I like to say is that our job is not to over-raise these topics,” he said. Degrassi Co-creator Linda Schuyler told CBC News in a 2020 interview where she discussed the episode that was pulled.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about abortion or gay rights or whatever we’re talking about,” she said. “Our job is not to make choices for young people. It’s to give them information to make their own decisions.”
Samantha Looney, a screenwriter for Métis in Barrie, Ontario, is currently working on two original films with an abortion story. One is a short film called expected Where a woman and her boyfriend discuss the termination of pregnancy. The ending is left intentionally ambiguous.
“I always like to leave things open to my audience when I’m making projects because I don’t want to put up my opinions at all – for example, that’s not my job as a director,” Looney said. “My job as a director is to put my life experience into my work.”
“It’s up to the audience to have these discussions and change people’s opinions together, right? I think that’s the beauty of art, is that it can change people’s lives when they watch a movie.”
Toronto actress and director Emily Shully’s first feature film, a bizarre horror movie called blood strains, featuring a character named Laura who is considering an abortion. She said that Scully herself had an abortion when she was much younger.
“The way I approach the discussion about abortion is not so much about what happens in the room, but what happens in the aftermath, and what goes into the difficult decisions a lot of women have to make,” she said.
The future of abortion storytelling
Miscarriages on television and movies are often what Herold calls “self-motivated”: driven by a desire to get a job, be independent, or further education. While these are good reasons for miscarriage, she said, they are not the only ones.
Women may think about whether they have enough money to support a child, whether they want to focus on the children they already have, or if the person they are partnering with is not someone you want to raise a child with.
“We rarely see this kind of structural consideration when characters are aborted on TV,” she said.
What might abortion stories be told on TV and movies in the near future? Herold hopes that these images will delve into addressing barriers to access and show a variety of backgrounds and experiences.
“We really need life-giving portrayal of abortion as an issue of race, class, gender or family love stories that really bridge the gap between who has had abortions in real life and who has had abortions on screen,” she said.
“Which means prioritizing the stories of the colorful characters, the people raising families at the time of their miscarriages, the characters struggling to make ends meet, the curious characters, the disabled characters, the original characters, the characters who live at the intersections of all of these identities.”
Just as the topic has been approached differently since the first television depiction of an abortion in 1962 Courtroom Drama Episode DefendersPost-Roe stories about abortion might take a different approach.
Looney said she’s not sure if art emerging from this period will play a role in changing laws or the political landscape — but time will tell how the political climate has affected media portrayals of and conversations about abortion.
“Art reflects time,” she said.