Why TV and film abortion stories are a sign of the Postlaw era

In 2004, a Canadian TV show headlined a controversial episode about a pregnant teenage girl deciding to have an abortion, much to her boyfriend’s distress. Her mother takes her to her clinic.

it was Degrassi: Next Generation — and the infamous episode, entitled accidents happenwas postponed for American audiences after a US cable channel decided to pull it before it aired.

Experts say the third-trimester episode was created at a time when on-screen depictions of abortion and discussions about abortion surgery in movies and television became more frequent and complex, and they were used to criticize public sentiment toward surgery. I point out that it reflects

“There are so many rich stories being told and so many interesting themes to follow, especially as they relate to the politics of what was going on at the time,” said Stephanie Herold, a researcher at the University of California, Sun. It is because Francisco (UCSF), who studies how abortion is portrayed in film and television.

After the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling was overturned in June, with abortion bans expected in about half the U.S. states, some Canadian advocates are voicing their support here. Concerned about the fate of the procedure, scholars and filmmakers say abortion needs to evolve to accurately reflect the real-life experience. .

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Kate Kelly of advocacy group Shout Your Abortion says multiple groups in the US are working to educate people about the availability of abortion pills after the Roe v. Wade ruling was overturned.

“Awkward Departure” from Reality

According to Herold, the storyline improved from earlier instances of on-screen abortion in the 1960s and 1970s, but was not a complete evolution.

The project Herold is contributing to, Abortion Onscreen, began when UCSF sociologist Gretchen Sisson began investigating the history of abortion in Hollywood.

The two then studied the race, age, socioeconomic status, and health outcomes of characters undergoing abortions in film and television to create a vast database of on-screen abortions.

Stephanie Herrold is a New York-based researcher who studies the race, age, socioeconomic status, and health outcomes of characters undergoing abortion in film and television, and has published extensive research on on-screen abortion. I have helped edit the database. (Stephanie Herold)

Herold and Sisson found a huge gap between fictional and real stories. For example, a 2014 study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology found that less than 1% of abortions result in serious complications, but on-screen that figure climbs to 18%, 70 times the actual complication rate. When it comes down to it, he says Herold. .

“The majority of people who experience abortions on TV and in movies are white, wealthy, and childless at the time of the abortion. This is a departure from the reality of who gets an abortion,” she added.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research firm that advocates for abortion rights, 59% of abortion patients in the US already have children. 49% live below the poverty line (75% are poor or low income). And the majority is racialized, with Black and Hispanic patients accounting for 28% and 25% of patients, respectively.

“The characters face very few of the logistical, financial and legal hurdles faced by real abortion patients,” Herold said. This can include out-of-state travel, finding childcare, and out-of-pocket expenses, especially in the US.

she pointed to an episode of the CBC show working moms A true portrayal of the challenges of access to abortion in the Canadian healthcare system, Anne (Dani Kind) is frustrated to learn that there is a significant waiting period for an abortion.

TV shows like scandal, aka Grace, shrill, Wynonna Earp When glow In recent years, it has aired various abortion stories.of shrillAnnie (Aidy Bryant) visits an abortion clinic and learns that the morning after pill doesn’t work for plus-sized women.

Kerry Washington played Olivia Pope in the season finale of the ABC series Scandal. In a 2015 episode, the character experiences an abortion. (Nicole Wilder/ABC/AP)

movies like express child When rarely sometimes always We explored the emotional and logistical challenges of abortion.In the latter, a 17-year-old girl from Pennsylvania New York City acquired the proceedings with her cousin and was able to rake in the funds and afford it.

‘Our job is not to make choices for young people’

“What I want to say is that our job is not to overly sensationalize these topics. Degrassi Co-creator Linda Schuyler spoke to CBC News in a 2020 interview about the plucked episode.

“It doesn’t matter what you’re talking about: abortion or gay rights. Our job is not to make young people make choices. It’s to give them information so they can make their own choices.” she said.

Metis screenwriter Samantha Roney, who lives in Barry, Ontario, is currently working on two original abortion-themed films. One is a short film called expectations A woman and her boyfriend discuss abortion.

“I like to stay open to the audience whenever I’m making a project because I don’t like to give my opinion. That’s not my job as a filmmaker.” My job is to reflect my life experiences in my work.”

“My job as a filmmaker is to bring my life experiences into my work,” says Samantha Ronnie, a screenwriter for Mety, who is currently working on two original abortion story films. I was. (Samantha Loney)

“It’s up to the audience to have these discussions and change people’s thoughts together, right? ”

Toronto actor and director Emily Schooley’s first feature film called Queer Horror Romance pedigree, featuring a character named Laura who is contemplating an abortion. Schooley herself said she had an abortion when she was much younger.

“The way I approach the debate over abortion is not so much what happens indoors, but what the aftermath is and what goes into the difficult decisions many women have to make,” she said. said.

Toronto actor and filmmaker Emily Schooley, who had an abortion as a young woman, says her first feature film will follow a character named Laura as she ponders the procedure. (Emily Schooley)

The future of abortion storytelling

Television and film abortions are often what Herold calls “voluntary”, driven by a desire to have a career, to be independent, or to continue an education. These are valid reasons for abortion, but they are not the only ones, she said.

Women are considering whether they have enough money to support children, whether they want to focus on the children they already have, or whether the person they are partnering with is not the one they want to raise. There is a possibility.

“You rarely see structural considerations like that when a character has an abortion on television,” she said.

What will television and film abortion storytelling look like in the near future? I am hoping for

Dani Kind is portrayed as Ann Carlson in Working Moms. Anne’s Season 1 character her arc ends with her undergoing an abortion. This reflects that many of the women seeking treatment are already parents. (Working Mom/CBC)

“We really need a portrayal that brings abortion to life as a matter of race, class, gender, or family love story.

“Characters of color, people who provide for their families during abortions, characters who are struggling to make ends meet, queer characters, characters with disabilities, indigenous characters, and the intersection of all these identities. It means prioritizing the stories of characters who live in .”

Just as the subject has been broached differently since abortion was first depicted on television in 1962, Court drama episode defendersa post-Roe era story about abortion might take a different approach.

Ronnie said he didn’t know if the art that emerged during this time would influence changes in law or the political climate, but how the political climate affected media portrayals of abortion and conversations about it. Time will tell.

“Art reflects the times,” she said.

Why TV and film abortion stories are a sign of the Postlaw era

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