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On 36th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Abortion Still Rare On TV and In Film

By January 21, 2009

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Ever notice how you never see a Hollywood movie or TV show featuring a main character who undergoes an abortion?

Although tomorrow marks the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade -- the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal and safe in the US -- entertainment media won't touch abortion with a ten-foot pole, even as other cultural taboos have fallen by the wayside.

Prime time TV tackles homosexuality, infidelity, sexually transmitted diseases, even pedophilia...but shows rarely include abortion or depict a woman arriving at the decision to have an abortion.

This squeamishness has little to do with sexuality. We have TV commercials about erectile dysfunction, reality shows where contestants freely hook up with each other, films and TV shows where teen pregnancy is front and center, and growing amounts of violence and nudity in every form of entertainment from videogames to film.

So why are we so hung up on abortion? Virginia Rohan, writing for NorthJersey.com, takes an insightful and in-depth look at this cultural disconnect in her article, "Abortion is still hush-hush on TV." Although abortion continues to polarize the nation, it's rarely discussed on television:

...[O]n both big and small screens, this debate...has largely gone silent, a baffling development no matter which side of the aisle you're on. And, despite the fact that TV's "Maude" famously had an abortion back in November 1972, only a handful of television characters have terminated pregnancies in the past decade. And those who have are either ancillary or recurring players, or ensemble-cast members...not leads.....On series television, if the issue is raised at all these days, it's usually addressed in a way that sidesteps the issue.

"Typically something tragic befalls the mother, or she has a miscarriage," says Lisa Allen, director of The Media Project, a resource on sexual-health-issues for Hollywood's creative community. "The climate in the last eight years is such that it's been difficult for writers to freely write about this issue without getting a lot of backlash from the network, and the community in general."

Allen's reference to 'the last eight years' clearly points to the restrictive policies of the Bush administration, which steadily chipped away at the edges of Roe v. Wade. Whether the attitude of 'the community' will shift under a more pro-choice Obama administration remains to be seen.


January 21, 2009 at 6:44 pm
(1) Whiteknyght says:

I think the last two movies to deal with the topic of abortion were “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and “The Last American Virgin” both in 1982. In both cases the girl in question were left alone to deal with the situation by the boy who got her there…

Interesting twist… in the first, her brother comes forward to help out… the second, the other guy – the aforementioned “virgin” swoops in to play knight in armour… only to have her go back to the guy…

January 27, 2010 at 10:32 am
(2) joan lerner says:

In a recently published (2009) highly cinematic style novel, “Among Us Women,” not only is the abortion issue up front and hotly discussed by the characters, but each with their own personal reasons, take the matter into their own hands to act upon it.

A chapter in the novel revolves around the anti-abortion protests in July 1991 in Wichita, Kansas at the very site of the clinic where Dr. Tiller was targeted.

Indeed, after an activist blows up a women’s health clinic in the novel with resulting deaths, there is a dramatic courtroom trial and, coincidentally, it is also proposed that “manslaughter” is a proper defense rather than first degree murder against the defendant. The resolution of the trial in the novel is a surprise.

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