Abortion Depictions in Pop Culture: Why Bitch Flicks’ Reproduction & Abortion Week Matters

Originally published at The Opinioness of the World.

Abortion is healthcare — a routine, normal and legal medical procedure. 1 in 3 women will get an abortion in her lifetime. Yet we rarely witness film and TV characters obtaining an abortion or even talking about abortion.

It’s “Reproduction and Abortion Week” at Bitch Flicks (my virtual home away from home!). All week-long, the feminist film and media site is featuring posts and reviews analyzing and critiquing the portrayal of abortion and reproduction in film and TV. As Bitch Flicks wrote:

“For some time at Bitch Flicks we’ve wanted to focus specifically on how reproductive issues and abortion are represented in movies and television shows. A moment like the infamous “schmamortion” scene in Knocked Up–when a character can’t even speak the word “abortion”–says that Hollywood isn’t helping the reproductive rights cause. However, you can contrast that with the strikingly honest and realistic take on abortion represented in the television show Friday Night Lights. But there are always more than two sides to the story, and we’d like to explore as many as we possibly can.”

Our bodies have become a battleground. At the federal level in 2011, the House voted on choice-related legislation 8 times, more than twice as much in any of the previous 5 years. In 2011, at the state level, anti-choice politicians launched an onslaught of legislation stripping away access to abortion and contraception. And 2012 looks just as bleak.

Wisconsin has suspended medical abortions. Louisiana has proposed a “heartbeat bill.” Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas (with Texas as the “harshest forced ultrasound law currently in effect) and Virginia have mandatory forced ultrasounds before abortion. Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma have passed 20-week abortion bans. Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, West Virginia have proposed abortion ban legislation. Arizona just passed a “fetal pain bill,” the country’s first 20-week gestational ban or 18-week post-fertilization, essentially shortening the ban by 2 weeks. These are just some of the plethora of anti-choice legislation. Trust me, I could keep going.

Increasing barriers to abortion do not reduce the abortion rate. Instead, abortion access barriers increase abortion rates, especially those occurring in later terms. As abortion costs also increase the later in pregnancy the later they are performed, it places a greater financial burden on those seeking abortions, particularly those who are low-income, people of color and queer communities – “queer people of color, in particular, are disproportionately economically disadvantaged when it comes to mortgages, wages, and staying above the poverty line.”

Much like anti-choicers have launched an all-out war on reproductive justice, demonizing abortion and contraception, the media hasn’t done much better. While it’s not the job of films and TV shows to educate, media matters. Media “reflects and shapes our values and opinions.” It can reinforce tired tropes and stereotypes, perpetuate myths or shed light on a topic and spark dialogue. Media impacts (both positively and negatively) our perception of our bodies, our relationships and the world around us.

Some films and TV series (Maude, Grey’s Anatomy, Roseanne, Dirty Dancing, Private Practice, Friday Night Lights, Greenberg, Vera Drake, Degrassi, Sex and the City, Girls) have dealt with abortion with dignity, honesty or humor. Sadly, most have not. If 30% of women get an abortion, then it’s an experience that should be depicted in media and pop culture. Most of the time, characters who unintentionally get pregnant select adoption or keep their baby as the only 2 options, omitting abortion and ultimately implying that there’s a “good” or “right” choice when it comes to reproduction.

The erasure of fictional characters choosing abortion perpetuates the stigmatization of abortion. With attacks on reproductive rights, it becomes even more crucial to depict abortion. No one should be made to feel shame for exercising autonomy over their body.

Read all of Bitch Flicks’ posts in the Reproduction and Abortion Series!

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

The Opinioness is a feminist vegan blogger, freelance writer and activist. She founded "The Opinioness of the World" in 2010, a blog on gender equality and living cruelty-free. The Opinioness is also a Bitch Flicks Contributor where she reviews film and television series from a feminist lens. Her work has also been published in or appeared at Arts & Opinion, Fem2pt0, Italianieuropei, Open Letters Monthly and A Safe World for Women. She earned her B.A. in Anthropology and Sociology from UMass Amherst and a Graduate Certificate in Women and Politics and Public Policy from UMass Boston. The Opinioness lives in Boston but dreams of moving to NYC.

Read more about

Join the Conversation