(Before we get into this week’s column, a note: I’ve been having fun playing around with formspring.me, a site where you can ask users anonymous questions. So, if there’s anything you’d like to ask me anonymously, from the silly to the severe, personal to policy, just click here to have at it, and I’ll be happy to answer.)
This week marked the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decison that made abortion legal in the U.S. (for at least some people. More on that later.). And television marked that anniversary by blowing my mind with awesomeness, and then breaking my heart.
First, the good. Because it’s really, really good. Remember last fall, when I wrote that pissed-off column about how films and TV shows unilaterally refuse to use the word "abortion," even when they’re discussing, y’know, abortion? Well, this week, two totally different shows went and did it. In episodes about characters considering abortion, both Friday Night Lights and Private Practice allowed one or more of their actors to utter the word "abortion" on network television. (And the shows didn’t even sink under the weight of it. Imagine!) And one of the characters then goes ahead and actually has an abortion.
Melissa Silverstein of Women & Hollywood has the whole story, including transcripts of how the shows discussed abortion (very respectfully, it turns out). Of course, it remains to be seen what the fallout will be on these shows – will the characters who normalized abortion as a legitimate option, or who had an abortion, be "punished," plot-wise, in the end? With characters who opposed abortion or who chose not to have one be rewarded or vindicated? I’ll keep you posted. But for the moment, we can count this as a small-but-significant victory on the path to creating a culture in which women have real, shame-free access to all of our reproductive options. (Want to celebrate? Contact NBC (use the dropdown menu to choose "Friday Night Lights") and ABC (Private Practice), and thank them for portraying frank and respectful discussions of abortion on their shows. You can bet the anti-choice folks are doing the opposite, so make sure they know that some of their viewers are actually pleased!)
Of course, there’s some less pleasing news to discuss from this week’s television offerings. That’s right, I’m talking about The Pregnancy Pact, the Lifetime movie event based on the totally-media-invented "real life" "pregnancy pact" (there aren’t enough scare quotes in the world for those phrases, people) that never actually happened a few years ago in Gloucester, MA.
What did happen? A bunch of teen girls in Gloucester got pregnant around the same time. (Could it be because the school refused to provide contraception to students that needed it?), Those that decided to carry to term thought it would be nice to support each other.
There are a lot of interesting movies you could make from this case. One about how and why teen girls who have low self-esteem and/or life choices limited by poverty or other circumstances may choose to have babies. One about how the media can invent a story where there isn’t one, with few consequences to them and many consequences to our culture. But we didn’t get an interesting movie from Lifetime. Instead, we got myth-promoting, slut-shaming, boys’-role-in-pregnancy-ignoring, girls-are-conniving-and-manipulative-and-stupid, pregnancy-should-teach-girls-to-keep-their-legs-closed propaganda masquerading as "teen pregnancy prevention." The kind of movie that leads legislators to think that women and girls who want abortions need to be forced to watch ultrasounds and get counseling in order to "understand" that we’re pregnant. (Which, at least, hilariously leads to really awesome Onion spoofs.)
I think you know what to do about this one, too. Contact Lifetime (click the orange "Lifetime" box, then click "Movies" and "Continue," then look to the left under the clipart photo for the "click here" link) and tell them that contraception and comprehensive sex education prevent teen pregnancy. Movies that pretend to be real but are based on myths and scare tactics don’t.
One last note. I mentioned above that Roe v. Wade made abortion legal for only some women in the U.S. That’s because it was followed by the Hyde Amendment, which made it illegal for any federal dollars to be spent on abortion care, and is the inspiration for the even more draconian Stupak Amendment that is currently being considered as part of new health care legislation. That means that women who can’t afford to pay for their own abortions already can’t get them. The Center for Reproductive Rights has a great new video campaign designed to change all that, and I highly encourage you to participate: