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Iowa State Daily

Barefoot: Abortion on TV

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Posted: Friday, January 7, 2011 4:35 pm | Updated: 4:59 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

Did you miss the special MTV did on teen abortions called "No Easy Decision" during winter break? You probably did, considering MTV did not promote the special that aired after the "16 and Pregnant" reunion special in any way whatsoever. They even put the special in the after hours graveyard spot of 11:30 p.m. eastern time.

So what's the big deal? Well, the fact that it wasn't promoted or advertised gives in to the popular idea that having an abortion is something not to be talked about and something to be ashamed of. If their own network is afraid to tackle promoting this difficult subject, how are women who had abortion supposed to feel?

The stand alone special featured three teens — including Markai, who gave birth to another child on the show "16 and Pregnant" — and their decision to terminate their pregnancies and the emotional aftermath. While the special did a good job showing abortion in a fair light, the lack of promotion hurt its chance to be helpful to teens struggling with abortion decisions.

Nearly one-third of all teen pregnancies end in abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, yet "16 and Pregnant" does not feature any teens who chose this option. Then again, this is the same show where very few mothers have chosen to give up their child for adoption. What does it say when a "reality" TV show refuses to show all of the options, mainly abortion?

On the "16 and Pregnant" reunion special that was aired before "No Easy Decision," Markai talked with Dr. Drew about life after her baby was born. Not once was her abortion discussed at all, but was the main story on the special. Even when discussing birth control and plans for having another child, her abortion was ignored.

Of course the reunion was highly publicized on MTV and was expected to have a high viewership, unlike "No Easy Decision" which you watched only if you stayed long enough after the reunion to care.

MTV isn't the only one to shy away from the abortions. Movies such as "Juno", "Knocked Up" and "Waitress" all feature unplanned pregnancies but talk little about abortion or use the word. In "Knocked Up" it is called "taking care of it" or a "Rhymes with Susmortion." In "Waitress" it was simply "the other thing" In "Juno," Juno goes to the clinic for one, only to be change her mind when learning the baby has fingernails.

Even in the ever cheesy Canadian Show "Degrassi" when they did an abortion two-part episode, the American channel The N, refused to show it due to it controversial content. This same network had no problem showing teen pregnancy, drinking, STDs, school shootings, but abortion is controversial. Especially since the show has many plots dealing with sexuality that puts characters with an unplanned pregnancy.

Why is it that while Roe v. Wade case decision turns 38 this month, that abortion is still looked down upon, or not talked about at all in television?

Why is the media so scared to show abortion as a reasonable choice for women? Sure it is controversial, and not a simple choice to make, but it is happening. By not publicizing it doesn't mean abortion will magically go away.

TV seems to feature abortion plots more than movies, but never in an even slightly positive light. If a character does have an abortion or is thinking about on in a movie or television show, there are several options for her:

1. She magically miscarries before she has an abortion such as on "Dawson's Creek" and "Beverly Hill's 90210."

Because while miscarriage does happen, there is a slim chance that by wishing you don't want the baby it will magically happen.

2. She is very much distressed with and turns to alcohol drugs or other bad behavior, or she dreams about dead babies, like in "Six Feet Under."

While I think it is safe to say that abortion can cause emotional stress, it does not mean that all women react the same way. So why does our media show only the worst possible scenario?

3. You die. This occurs after the abortion, when after backlash from people who find the plot controversial and boycott your show and then screen writers decide to kill off the character to appease them. This happened in the short lived "Jack and Bobby" series.

Because higher forces will punish you by death for having an abortion regardless if you believe in them. I'm sure Planned Parenthood says otherwise.

4. At the last possible minute she will change her mind and keep the baby. Naturally everything is turns out okay, such as in a plot in "Sex and the City" and more recently "Private Practice" and the god awful "Secret Life of the American Teenager."

While abortion is not the right choice for everyone, these shows send the message that it's not the right choice for anyone.

"Friday Night Lights" is the only show I can think of that recently did a good job with this topic, with Becky clearly stating why she wanted it. She was in the 10th grade with no money and knew she couldn't raise a child. After having the abortion she thought she made the right choice. We shall see if screenwriters and advertisers allow her to keep this decision.

In the 1970s, there was one show that portrayed abortion in a fair light, "Maude." While Maude was upset about it, she didn't die, change her mind, or turn to drugs. In the end she was okay with her decision and moved on. That was 30 years ago, and we have made little progress since then.

There might be more abortion friendly plots I am missing considering I don't spend all day watching TV, but the fact is they are few in number, and if they are there they are narrow in their views.

What do I want to see in 2011? An abortion storyline on television portrayed in a fair light, where while the decision was difficult they feel like they made the right choice. Oh and for it to be shown at a decent hour.

What happened to the days where TV was more progressive than the movies? Where they pushed the envelope on what you can see on TV and were advocates for social change? It seems now days they are too worried about backlash and loss of advertisements dollars to do anything outside the box.

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