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A Long Way from “The Very Special Episode,” A Main Character Has an Abortion on Prime Time Television

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Written by Martha Kempner for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the  original post.

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Last season, I wrote about how well I felt Private Practice handled abortion when one of its main characters agreed to perform the procedure on a patient who found out that she was still pregnant (19 weeks along) after an earlier abortion failed.  That show deals with abortion quite often and I give the writers a lot of credit for the way they have portrayed the debate. They touch on different aspects of the issue by weaving a variety of stories into the medical drama; in addition to the woman requesting a second-trimester abortion, they’ve written about couples who disagree on termination, teens and their parents, as well as a young pregnant woman with Down’s Syndrome who didn't quite understand the situation.  The dialogue is often predictable and melodramatic, but the writers let characters express both sides of the issue. In the end, though, it’s clear that they use the show as a platform to illustrate why the right to safe, legal abortions, without judgment is so important.

For premier night, however, it was Private Practice’s sister show Grey’s Anatomy, also created by Shonda Rhimes, that dealt with abortion.  When we left our characters last season, Dr. Christina Yang, a hard-edged surgeon in her fifth year of residency, found out she was accidentally pregnant.  She and her husband Owen, also a surgeon, argued bitterly because he wanted a child and she did not.  When we picked up this season, the two were living apart and not speaking. Though she still intended to have an abortion, she had not done so yet.

What I thought was so bold about this story line was that there were no extenuating circumstances. There was no suggestion that there was anything wrong with the fetus.  There was no suggestion of any medical reason she could not or should not carry to term. Moreover, she is well educated, employed, and in a (relatively) stable relationship. She clearly has the resources to raise a child.  Her only reason behind this decision was that she does not want to be a mother.

And the writers did good job, in my opinion, making the argument that every baby should be a wanted baby.

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