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'Reality' Show Lets You Decide If Women Get Abortions?

A new show lets viewers weigh in on whether the characters have abortions. Is it a smart way to spark discussion about abortion, or tone deaf and callous?

A new web show called " BUMP+" is stirring up controversy and conversation about abortion. It's a "fake" reality show in which three actresses portray women facing unintended pregnancies. These characters, entirely fictional, have agreed to appear on a reality TV show and let the public weigh in on what they should do about their pregnancies: keep it, terminate it, adoption? The creators of the web series say they will pick what happens to "contestants'" pregnancies based on viewer response.

It's not exactly what we pro-choicers have always dreamed about: a decision left up to a woman, her doctor, and a vast and anonymous internet audience. When feminists say we want more realistic portrayals of abortion in the movies and on TV,  we don't mean  reality-show realistic. My body, everybody's choice?

BUMP+ aims for more than just controversy however; it seeks to, in the words of its  creators, spark an honest, Obama-style "common ground" dialogue about the choice based on women's reality rather than ideological scuffling. The  tag-line: 

"In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court gave women a choice. Thirty-seven years later, we're giving them a voice. BUMP+ is a provocative web series from Yellow Line Studio that follows the fictional stories of three women facing unintended pregnancies."

As someone who writes constantly about the weird avoidance or squeamishness surrounding abortion on TV and the movies, I'm not opposed to this kind of show in theory. Zooming in on women's lives can often really illuminate what reproductive freedom is all about. A brilliant example is the essay collection " Choice" from a few years back, in which women wrote about every angle of reproduction, from abortion to adoption to surrogacy to miscarriages to regular old pregnancy, and it became clear that there is no one-size fits all rule for such intimate decisions. And that's what the show's creators claim are trying to do--brush off the rhetoric, leave us with the stories.  

But there are a few barriers to this goal. The show's format -- a fictional reality show with traditional actors playing reality show contestants -- has a couple of meta-layers between real women's stories and the audience. Reality show contestants are not there for us to empathize with, as a rule; they're there to make us feel superior. Most importantly, the show doesn't merely  follow three women with unexpected pregnancies, but it allows viewers to weigh in on whether they're going to carry their pregnancies to term or have abortions.   The show has already gotten major backlash from both sides for this supposed callousness. 

"So let me get this straight: two dudes, yet again, come up with a TOTALLY novel way of framing a debate that fundamentally affects women and that novel method turned out to be wholly insensitive?" said  a commenter at Jezebel.  While over at FOX news, a commenter wrote "This is the height of depravity and one more sign that America has truly lost it's [sic] way...How sad that the killing of the unborn has now become "entertainment."

However, when I called Bump+'s Director, Chris Riley,  he wanted to emphasize that although the show seeks viewers' input, there' no up-or down American Idol style vote on these women's futures (whew). "We have shot multiple endings, and we've shot 50 hours of which we'll only see about 75 minutes. So in post-production we'll have a lot of latitude to shape things in terms of what happens and the input we get, but as characters  these women will fully make their choices on their own ," he said.