In this 40th year of legalized abortion in America, Hollywood and Planned Parenthood want you to know abortion is no big deal.
That’s the message we’re to infer from the recent episode of NBC’s hit show “Parenthood” titled “Small Victories,” in which the teen character Amy casually decides to abort her baby because, as she explains to her boyfriend, “If I have this baby, my life is over.” Apparently the figurative end of her life would be a bigger deal than the literal end of a baby’s.
On the show, Amy’s boyfriend, Drew, objects to the abortion and tries to map out a hopeful future for the potential young family. “It doesn’t have to be over,” he says. “We could start a life. I can go to college. I can get a job. There are plenty of people who can help us.”
No go. It’s her decision and she has made it. All she wants from her baby’s father is the money to kill it.
“Parenthood’s” version of the abortion decision is a stark departure from the established narrative when it comes to abortion on television. Since the first abortion storyline on the sitcom “Maude” in November 1972, characters have generally struggled with the choice to abort. (At the time, abortion was legal in New York, where the fictional characters lived, though the federal court didn’t overturn state laws banning abortion until two months later.)
Maude, the character created by Norman Lear and played by Bea Arthur, was a 47-year-old mother of an adult daughter who was unprepared to start over to raise a child, and unwilling to face the risks of a late-in-life pregnancy. Her reticence at being pregnant was entirely understandable, so Mr. Lear and his writers must have assumed that her decision also would be perceived as reasonable.
To say the double episode “Maude’s Decision” was controversial is an understatement. Abortion was hardly mentioned on TV for more than 15 years after it aired.
Gradually, though, an abortion narrative has emerged. Ironically, it’s not the one that pro-choice advocates prefer.
Typically on TV, the pregnant woman goes through a period of emotional turmoil, during which abortion is portrayed as an understandable and reasonable option, but the tugs of maternal instinct — or sometimes the love between the baby’s mother and father — are seen as conflicting with the obvious convenience and practicality of an abortion.
Through the years, characters on TV who face the abortion decision have usually (and conveniently) miscarried or else backed out at the last minute and decided instead to carry their babies to term.