I’m rooting for an abortion this Friday night

Becky at her locker looking anxious

I’m rooting for an abortion.

There’s sure to be an exciting football game in this week’s episode of Friday Night Lights (which has already aired on DirecTV but airs on NBC on Friday), but it’s the outcome of Becky’s pregnancy, not the game, that I’ll be interested in tonight.

In last week’s episode, 15-year-old Becky found out she was pregnant and is considering an abortion. If she has one tonight, it will be one of only a few abortions shown on network television since Bea Arthur’s Maude had one back in 1972. That would be a victory for Becky–and the millions of women like her who choose abortion every year.

In the real world, abortion is one of the most common surgical procedures in the country and more than a third of American women will have one by age 45 . On TV, however, unexpected pregnancies usually result in a baby without even a mention of the “A” word. If a character does consider abortion, as Private Practice ‘s Maya did last season and Grey’s Anatomy ‘s Christina did in Season 1, it typically ends with an 11th hour change of heart or a convenient miscarriage as a last-minute cop-out. But Friday Night Lights has already shown it’s not afraid to tackle controversial issues with a nuance and realism that’s unparalleled in mainstream television. If any show can offer a thoughtful, honest portrayal of the intensely personal decision to end an unwanted pregnancy, it’s this one.

I’m rooting for an abortion because I’m rooting for Becky. Because she is a sophomore in high school and desperately wants to escape Dillon, Texas. Because she was raised by a single teenage mother and is determined not to relive her life. Because after taking four pregnancy tests and getting four positive results, she called the 1-800 number on the box near tears to find out just how accurate these tests are. Because when she discovered she was pregnant, Becky said she wanted to get an abortion.

And I want Becky to have an abortion without the world crashing down around her. I want her to have an abortion and then go back to competing in beauty pageants, fighting with her mom, and obsessing over her crush, Tim Riggins. I want her to get on with being a rather silly 15-year-old girl. And I want someone in her life to tell her she shouldn’t be ashamed of making the decision that’s right for her.

I’m rooting for an abortion because I want all the teenage girls who have been in Becky’s position and had an abortion to see their choice represented on TV with respect and empathy. According to the Guttmacher Institute , each year, 750,000 women aged 15-19 become pregnant. Nearly a third of these young women decide to get an abortion, representing 18% of all abortions in the U.S. each year. While Becky isn’t real, these women are. And they deserve to see their choice acknowledged and validated onscreen.

Becky, like all great characters, represents someone we know or someone we love or someone we might be. And I want all the teenage girls watching who may one day find themselves, like Becky, unexpectedly pregnant and very scared to know that they too can have an abortion and that life–and football–will go on.

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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  • uberhausfrau

    i hope the new feministing layout has a simple “like” button similar to facebook for postings. i have nothing more to say than “i like this.”

  • gwye

    I’m pro-choice, which means that I support the right of a woman, even a fictional woman, to make her own decision without “rooting” one way or the other.

  • Jos

    I wrote about the upcoming episode (so spoilers if you’re watching on NBC) when it aired on DirecTV: http://www.feministing.com/archives/019752.html The handling of this plot line throughout the season is excellent – I highly recommend watching.

  • Michelle J

    I’ve never seen this show, but I’m rooting with you. I have long been bothered by the lack of reality in teen pregnancies (or adult for that matter) on television. Shows like 16 and Pregnant could have been used as a venue to open a healthy dialouge about abortion, but instead it’s never even mentioned. These shows just simply pretend it doesn’t exist.
    16 and Pregnant particularly bothers me. Not a single episode (there’s been maybe 15?) has shown the girl even considering abortion, and I know that statistically that’s just not possible. If 1/3rd of pregnant women 15-19 are having an abortion, how can 0% out of 15? I think the show is an attempt to show teens how hard it is to be a teen mom, which is great, but since it featured a girl who gave her baby up for adoption, why not profile a girl who decides to have an abortion?
    I know it’s most likely because it would be incredibly difficult to find a 15 year old (and her parents?) who is willing to televise to the nation her story of pregnancy and then choosing abortion. Which makes me sad because it just shows how “don’t talk about it” and “pretend it doesn’t exist” this country is when it comes to the subject. It does nothing to help loosen the stigma around the procedure, which we so desperatly need to do.

  • Marj

    There’s an episode of the old Degrassi series that always stuck with me, that was about a girl deciding if she wanted to end her pregnancy or not. One of my favourite parts is when she talks to another girl who’s a teen mom and gets the ‘it was the right decision for me, that doesn’t mean it’s right for you’ speech. The episode ended with the girl and her sister entering an abortion clinic.

  • Nik

    Except that is she is a fictional woman and her status as such means that she can’t ‘make her own choices.’ There’s a team of writers making them for her- and I hope they choose to have her abort. As a pro-choice woman, I would like to see all choices represented in the media.

  • clementine

    did you read this article or just the title? clearly the character in this show wants an abortion. Maya is hoping that the writers will chose to show an honest portrayal of a young woman making the decision she wants to make instead of showing her being coerced into another action or coming up with a storyline cop-out.

  • genericjanedoe

    I know what you’re saying, but as I think the OP pretty clearly illustrated, the mainstream media tends to present only one side of the “choice” in their narratives. Therefore, abortion continues to be a mystified experience and is portrayed as continually the “wrong” choice for every character.
    It promotes shaming and silencing of those who do choose abortion…so in my opinion, it’s not as easy as to say you support every fictional women’s decision when those decisions makes it harder on real women.

  • FLT

    Let’s go with the 1/3 of American women having an abortion by age 45 stat, which sounds right to me.
    And let’s go with most TV pregnancies resulting in an 11th hour change of mind, straight embrace of unplanned pregnancy, or convenient miscarriage.
    What this tells me is that DESPITE this ongoing media blast, women are still thinking for ourselves and making our own choices. This is actually pretty amazing.
    I think many many behaviors change in the way of TV even with less coverage. Think of the twin beds a lot of married couples had after Lucy and Ricky didn’t share a sleeping space.
    Now let’s get the media to admit it: abortion is the choice for many women.

  • Floyd_Fino

    I’m sorry but this post really makes me feel uncomfortable. As pro-choice as i am, i can’t help but feel that abortion should always be the last resort for anyone and the decision to do so should come from the support of family and friends alike, not from a television show. Therefore it just sounds like you’re stating that abortion is really the only option out there for young pregnant women when we all know that it’s not. That being said, it sounds like you promoting the old sterotype of “pro-choice=pro-abortion”.

  • Comrade Kevin

    As I think I may have mentioned before, long ago, one of my sisters had an abortion at not much older than the Becky character. The guy was a total loser/drug addict and my father quietly paid for the procedure. My sister doesn’t like to talk about it, but it certainly hasn’t made some hugely destructive impact on her or her ability to lead a functional life.
    I had a crush on a girl in high school who was a year older than me. She revealed to me that she’d gotten pregnant her Freshman year by a charming older guy, a Senior. She wasn’t particularly comfortable talking about it, but neither did she seem scarred for life. It was something that had happened and now she was more concerned with living the rest of her life.

  • Maya

    I am absolutely not saying that abortion is the only good option for teenage women facing an unplanned pregnancy. Those who choose parenting or adoption should also be supported in their decision. But, in real life, abortion is a choice that 1/3 of them make. However, from looking at how teen pregnancy is portrayed on TV, you’d think that 99.9% of these young women have the baby. That’s not an accident–that’s because of the stigma around abortion. And that stigma–and the glaring absence of abortion in the media and pop culture–is sending the message to young women who do–or might someday–choose abortion that they should feel ashamed of that choice. Therefore, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to root for the writers of FNL to have Becky, a fictional character, go through with having an abortion–when they’re already made it pretty clear that’s the choice she wants.
    Finally, I think it would be really great if every abortion decision could be made with “the support of family and friends alike,” but that’s just not always possible.

  • Michelle J

    I think the OP is “rooting” for the girl to have an abortion so that the subject is better represented in mainstream media. Not because it’s a young pregnant womans “only” choice.
    In addition, why should it only be a “last resort”? Being pro-choice is awesome, but I hope you understand that for some people it’s not a “last resort”, abortion is a blessing (though it may not seem like it right away), it’s a second chance, it’s sometimes not even a difficult decision. For me, it was the only option, and I was strong enough in my convictions that I didn’t really think twice. And I still feel the same way years later.
    But, that’s just my opinion!

  • Mighty Ponygirl

    There’s the “recommend” button at the bottom of the post.
    But yes, this is just a fantastic post. Really, really well-put.

  • DownAtTheDinghy

    Being pro-choice is awesome, but what is not awesome is saying, “I am pro-choice BUT a] only if you have one or b] only if you don’t use it as birth control or c] only in cases of rape/incest etc, etc.”
    Someone once told me that whenever you use the word “but” you really only mean the second thing you’re saying. I feel that is true.
    When I hear the “I’m pro-choice, but..” scapegoat, I feel like whoever is saying it hasn’t had the opportunity to truly explore their feelings surrounding abortion or that they buy into stereotypes about abortion, who has abortions, why they have them, etc. And I’m not saying you’re doing this, I’m just saying that’s what I feel like.
    When we say abortion should be rare, we are ultimately admitting that we believe something is wrong with it, and maybe you do, which is your prerogative. But if we don’t think there’s anything morally unacceptable about abortion, then I don’t know why we would say this.
    When we accept the framework that abortion should be rare, or mainly justified by cases of rape, incest, maternal health concerns, we are partners in continuing biological slavery and agreeing that women don’t deserve the right to their own moral agency. If we can’t control a most basic of biological functions, how can we ever truly be free? Compulsory motherhood has no place in a free society. We determine how half of humanity will experience their lives.
    No one wants to have an abortion. But birth control fails, mistakes are made. You have about 400 chances to conceive in a lifetime, making one mistake along the way is doing pretty damn well, in my opinion.
    Am I pro-abortion? Sure. Because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having an abortion. Do I think everyone should have one? No I don’t. But I do think a majority of the public is confused about abortion.
    When we keep abortion hidden and reserve it for “special circumstances” and we can’t even have an honest conversation about it without whispering and sharp intakes of breath, we are silencing the experiences of over 30% of women and illegitamizing their right, their choice, and their experience.
    Showing one abortion on TV would perhaps help young girls understand that having an abortion won’t change your life that much, or destroy your health, or whatever other myths they’ve heard. We glorify (or obsess over) teen pregnancy all the time, I don’t see why abortion shouldn’t be accurately represented.

  • gee

    Maude didn’t have an abortion.

  • Catie

    There was an episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation with an abortion plot, too. It didn’t air in the US on The N until about two years after it was aired in Canada, but it featured a character who got pregnant and chose to have an abortion. She seeks the advice of her friend’s mother, who was a teen mom, who tells her to do what is right for her, not what the father thinks she should do. Despite her religious background, she talks to her mother who takes her to a clinic. All in all, I think it was handled pretty well–two friends tried to talk her out of it (but were far less composed and rational than the pregnant girl herself) and one of them ended up conceding that it’s “her body.”

  • Brianna G

    Abortion is never the last resort. Adoption or keeping the child is.
    Think about it– if you can’t, don’t want to, or don’t use abstinence, you’ll turn to birth control. If you can’t, don’t want to, or don’t use birth control, you’ll turn to EC. If you can’t, don’t want to, or don’t use EC, you’ll turn to abortion. If you can’t, don’t want to, or don’t abort, you’ll either choose adoption or to raise the child.
    It’s not like if your child can’t be adopted or you can’t raise them you can abort them afterwards. If all else fails, that’s what’s left– abortion isn’t left standing if those options fail.

  • Amanda Marcotte

    Being pro-choice doesn’t mean pretending never to have an opinion about a choice. Sometimes politeness demands that you keep that opinion to yourself, but seriously, let’s not get into accusing people of committing thought crimes because they think, “Oh man, I hope she chooses that abortion instead of becoming a teenage mom who gets stuck in Shitsville, TX.”

  • Amanda Marcotte

    Yes, she did.
    Google is your friend. It wasn’t a big deal, because that was before people decided to believe abortion was murder. She had an abortion back when the main argument against it was that it was good and right to discriminate against women. It was really only after it became socially unacceptable to have legal discrimination against women did the right decide to oppose abortion on other grounds.

  • newyorkred1

    In general I agree that saying “abortion should be rare” makes it sound like there’s something morally wrong with it. But in the US, abortion is such an expensive and stigmatized thing that I really do wish it were rare; I wish there were better contraception and that the “man involved” were actually always *involved*. There’s no reason a woman living on 300 bucks a month and food stamps should scrape up 500 by herself, or 400 and deny herself the general anesthesia she wants, when the guy can say, “Oh, sorry I don’t have the cash right now” or “But you should have my baby” and then disappear. I wish this were rare. I also don’t understand why abortion clinics abound in the US but not in other countries–I mean, why has this one procedure been banned from hospitals? At the same time I don’t get why it’s been so medicalized. Because I am disappointed by abortion care in this country, I wish it were rare, because women deserve better than this.
    And really–it is a medical procedure that requires someone to take time off work, find a driver, etc. I don’t think there’s anything bad about abortion but it’s just a hassle and if unwanted pregnancies were reduced I do think it would be better.

  • andyadkins

    if it is not an informed decision (1) you are telling the women what having pregnancy means for their cognitive development (a) it myelinates permanent markers on the somatosensory and motor cortices that are neurally networked through sexual function neural anatomy (limbic (where am I?mirror neurons) and autonomic (fight or flight survivalism++(2) the fact that abortion has not only direct & long term impacts upon their mentational capacities (their ability to interpret the world) because it disrupts those neural networks but also upon their ability to participate in and promote the salutary inherent conjunctiveness of mental life (In short, if you are not connected to the community you are anomic (in pain) and this is a physiological manifestation of cognitive health issues created by the increasing numbers of people who are (a) have lost the capacity to participate in and promote the (wordless) inherent conjunctiveness of mental life (b) or a member of the cognitively underdeveloped generations that the former has failed ….failing schools, substance abuse nation, prison overpopulation, credit dependency, unskilled labor class majority fighting each other for service sector jobs….The baby boomers grew up in great society and they have ruined the future with their lusts for power and wealth that they satisfied unashamedly with exploitation
    It is offensive to read that an uninformed woman is empowered by commoditizing her body and ruining her mind and her ability to grow the minds of others by her presence

  • analogue.rockk

    um, yeah she did lol. google it.

  • Michelle J

    anyone else read this comment and go wtf?
    Or is it just me?

  • Chelsa

    Nope, I definitely went Wtf?
    I seem to think it says that having an abortion retards mental development in the baby-carrier, but I’m not quite sure.
    Frankly, it seems like they just had a thesaurus field day… or were purposely obtuse and baiting.
    Either way… wtf?