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TV and Movie List to Smash Abortion Stigma from the Couch

Advocacy  •  9 April 2020  • 3 min read

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Abortion is a safe, everyday occurrence. Finally, Hollywood is beginning to reflect that

Abortion is safe and common — but for too long, TV and movies didn’t reflect that. When abortion was shown, it was often a dramatic decision, done in a back alley and usually harming a woman’s health. According to Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH), abortions depicted on TV are 20 times more dangerous than they are in real life.

Take “Dirty Dancing” (1987). Although it’s a groundbreaking movie for its time, Penny’s abortion is a spectacle of pain, with the abortion provider described as a ‘guy with a dirty knife and folding table’. Because the story takes place before Roe v. Wade made abortion legal, Penny’s forced to unsafe options — though the movie does treat her decision with compassion. 

 More recently, many movies and TV shows portray abortion as an agonizing decision that the character ultimately doesn’t go through with, like in “Juno” (2007) and “Sex and the City” (2001).

Luckily, this has begun to change. Abortion is not only becoming more common on TV, but it’s increasingly portrayed as an everyday life decision experienced by people of all sexualities and ethnic backgrounds. One of ANSIRH’s researchers, Gretchen Sisson, told the New York Times that in 2019, “You’re definitely seeing more of the matter-of-fact ‘I am pregnant, I don’t want to be, I’m going to have an abortion.”

TV producer Shonda Rhimes has been a pioneer in depicting abortion on screen. Christina, played by Sandra Oh, one of the main characters on Rhimes’ show, “Grey’s Anatomy,” never wanted kids. When she gets pregnant in the show’s eighth season (2012), she decides to have an abortion, despite pressure from her husband not to. Christina never apologizes for her decision. She is financially secure, a doctor, and married — and she has the right to have an abortion, like every person should. Kerry Washington’s character Olivia Pope in Rhimes’ other show, “Scandal” (2015), also goes about getting an abortion in a matter-of-fact way, with barely 2 minutes of screen time dedicated to the procedure. Rhimes’ shows have opened up the way for other abortions to be depicted on screen.

Abortion is a part of everyday life. It is an extremely safe procedure, and a choice many women make without drama or agony. The increase in matter-of-fact, safe abortions shown on-screen means that art is finally beginning to imitate life.

Movies and Abortion Rights

Have a look at MSI’s recommended list of movies and TV shows to get you through social isolation while supporting creators that fight for abortion rights.

Abortion is a safe, everyday occurrence. Finally, Hollywood is beginning to reflect that


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