5 times abortion was portrayed on TV and how that went
The good, the bad, the inaccurate, and the stigma-laden.
When TV characters have abortion, talk about abortion, or know someone who has an abortion, they contend with a minefield of stigma, depending on how these questions (and others) are addressed: How is the abortion seeker treated? Does the abortion actually happen, or do the writers find a way around it? Do we see the procedure? If yes, what does it look like? What happens to the character who has the abortion afterwards? Here are five example of abortion on TV - the good, the bad, the inaccurate, and the stigma-laden.
Party of Five (1994-2000): High-achieving oldest daughter Julia Salinger decides on abortion, and schedules it, only to miscarry before she can get to the clinic. Julia says she would have ended up having an abortion anyway, but the episode is full of stigma, manipulation and judgement around the decision.
Beverly Hills, 90210 (1990-2000): Considering when it aired, the 90210-iverse is actually rife with abortion storylines, only one of which culminates in an abortion (which we don't see on screen). First, Kelly's mom tells her she had an abortion when she was younger, and although she didn't regret, she couldn't do it again. Then, there's Andrea who gets pregnant during her first year of college via her anti-choice boyfriend. She goes on to give birth and marry said boyfriend, but she contemplates abortion openly and Kelly tells her she will help her in any way she can (abortion funding!). Later in the series, Susan wins a journalism award for a feature she wrote about a woman who had an abortion. It turns out that this woman was Susan, and she's deeply regretful of having had the abortion (which, statistically, we know isn't accurate.)
Days of Our Lives: The longest-running scripted drama on television has tackled demonic possession, characters who refuse to stay dead, and in 2011, its first gay romance. In 2002, college freshman Mimi Lockhart becomes pregnant, chooses an abortion without telling her boyfriend, actually has an abortion, and then gets an infection that renders her sterile. Is there a more perfect example of abortion stigma?
Grey's Anatomy: When the show's creator, Shonda Rhimes, initially wanted to have an abortion storyline in season 1, but after some conversations with higher ups, she opted for Cristina Yang to have an ectopic pregnancy instead. In 2011, Yang did have an abortion, one of the first characters of color on TV to do so. "Part of the luxury of my job is that I don’t necessarily have to ask anybody anymore. I didn’t ask anybody, we just did it," said Rhimes in an interview with Vulture.
Dear White People: In episode 4 (Volume 2), college student Coco decides to have an abortion after a birth control failure. This episode has all the pieces you'd hope to see in the portrayal of abortion: support from other women, sex that she enjoyed and doesn't regret, and recognition of the barriers to abortion. Coco contemplates a life with a child, and then soundly rejects it, marching into her appointment with confidence in her decision. The show doesn't backtrack, either - we don't get a depiction of Coco regretting things later, she isn't punished for her choice by the writers (see Days of Our Lives.)
Check out this piece in Bitch, as well as ANSIRH's Abortion Onscreen in 2018 Portrayals of Abortion on American Television, for more examples of abortion on tv and analyses of them through a pro-choice lens.