Onscreen abortion representation is vital, but has its limits

woman on a TV with a pregnancy test
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Abortion isn’t just a right; it’s a choice made by women every day. Mainstream media should represent the procedure as such—at the very least an option, if not a decision made—though we can’t rely on Hollywood to do the heavy lifting when it comes to improving access to abortion and contraceptives.
 
Abortion isn’t palatable for mainstream television, which is probably why onscreen women, in the event of unwanted pregnancy, default to keeping the baby. Many of these fictional characters don’t even consider abortion, let alone go through with the procedure.
 
Every woman is different, and there’s no right way to deal with an unexpected pregnancy. In real life, many women do choose to keep their babies, but many others choose abortion. Yet, onscreen, you wouldn’t know it.
 
Onscreen representation of abortion is needed, although it’s not the be-all-end-all to making abortion less stigmatized and more accessible. 
 
While abortion is a plot point in many television shows, it’s usually not treated favourably. Cristina Yang in Grey’s Anatomy, for example, is depicted as cold and unfeeling in her decision to abort her baby, ultimately shedding a negative light on the choice she makes. These negative representations of abortion can’t be the only ones we see in mainstream television. Other times, abortion scenes are sensationalized or unrealistically frightening. On the flip side, some television shows tend to romanticize unwanted pregnancies.
 
Although abortion is a right in Canada, society often expects women to feel remorseful or fraught when choosing to exercise it. Television reflects this idea that abortion is something to be mourned, but to the contrary, many feel relieved after the procedure. Both these feelings are valid, but no one should be expected to feel one or the other. Being cognizant of the nuances of abortion and exploring the complexities of these situations in full is also important when it comes to onscreen representation.
 
All these emotions and experiences are valid. Depicting them onscreen will allow women in these positions to feel seen and help fight abortion stigmatization. Sex Education and Bojack Horsemen are examples of shows promoting positive representation of abortion scenes onscreen. 
 
That said, we can’t expect representation to do all the work for us.
 
Abortion is healthcare, and the fact that access to it is still difficult and stigmatized for many is an issue that goes beyond what’s represented on screen. Hollywood is controlled by capitalism and good ratings; leaving it to film tycoons to solve abortion issues is unrealistic, even if proper representation has its merits.
 
—Journal Editorial Board

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