entertainment

Abortion on prime time TV. Finally we get some realism.

Spoiler alert: This post discusses the most recent episodes of Scandal and Please Like Me, the new Netflix/Marvel series Jessica Jones and previous season’s plot points of Grey’s Anatomy.

The lead character in a major prime time network drama had an abortion.

Scandal’s white-hatted-gladiator, Olivia Pope, skipped an official White House dinner to terminate an unwanted pregnancy and we didn’t even know that she was pregnant until it happened.

There was no soul searching and no miscarriage to save the character from being a Woman Who Had an Abortion.

All in all, the procedure took up about a minute in a montage set to Silent Night during the hugely popular show’s mid-season finale.

Abortion on TV - finally some realism
Olivia Pope and her boyfriend the president.

This is a huge step forward in the representation of abortion on screen, and one we probably should have known would come from Shonda Rhimes, Scandal’s showrunner.

Rhimes previously wrote an abortion into the life of Grey’s Anatomy’s Christina Yang, a woman who was determined not to have children.

It has frustrated me for years that abortions are rarely the road taken on television and in film, and to finally see it presented as something a woman does without fanfare is simply excellent.

Lots of women have had abortions. In the United States and Australia almost one in three women will have an abortion. Half of all pregnancies are unplanned, and half of those unplanned pregnancies end in termination.

Abortion on TV - finally some realism
Christina Yang: TV abortion pioneer.
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And yet, I can count on one hand the number of female characters I’ve seen chose an abortion for non-medical reasons. (Erica on Degrassi High and Christina Yang were it.)

But this week was different.

I saw three abortions in the space of three days, and each one was represented differently, but in a wonderfully real way.

Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) helped save American women’s health organisation Planned Parenthood from potential defunding before securing her abortion.

On Please Like Me, the Australian series which also airs on US youth cable network Pivot, Claire’s (Caitlin Stacey) abortion was a major plot point, but the plot wasn’t a “will she have one?” scenario, it actually took us through the days in which the procedure took place.

Abortion on TV - finally some realism
Claire and Josh
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And finally, on Netflix’s newest Marvel collaboration Jessica Jones, Jessica (Krysten Ritter) procures abortion drugs for a client in prison who is pregnant to her tormentor.

These are three women with very different lives and circumstances.

The first is the live-in girlfriend of the President of the United States: she’s mature, wealthy and stable.

The second is a young, unemployed, single woman who isn’t in a relationship. The man in the scenario is somewhere in Europe, while she is in Melbourne.

The third is in prison, terrified and alone, and pregnant to a man who controlled her — she couldn’t have consented to sex with him.

While all these women are fictional, their situations are not entirely unreal (some aspects, like being the President’s girlfriend or the victim of supernatural mind control are a bit outside the norm, sure). That’s what makes these moments important.

Abortion on TV - finally some realism
Jessica Jones helps a client get an abortion.

Women need to see other women choosing to have an abortion and not agonising over it, or behaving like it’s going to ruin their lives forever. Yes, having an abortion can cause sadness, and in some cases regret, but it’s not a certainty that it will.

Some women are just going to be relieved.

And that’s ok.

This week, something shifted in TV-land, and it seems that women are now permitted to have control of their bodies and not apologise for it.

It’s about time.

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