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What It's Like to Have an Abortion in Texas: TV Shows Finally Grappling with Realities Women Face

As states pass record numbers of abortion restrictions, TV and film go to the abortion clinic, with varying results.

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This is abortion in a red state--not easy to come by, not easy for people to accept or advocate, not easy to figure out in an economically depressed climate where teen parenting can be seen as a normal way of life.

Secret Life of the American Teenager: Myth

Adrian is the young woman Becky’s age, who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant on “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.” Like Becky, Adrian has supportive adults around her, and also adults who want to push her in the direction of keeping the baby. In fact the back and forth between everyone around poor Adrian's choices hinges on creepy. It adheres to a political, or journalistic, playbook rather than the gentle, emotional touch provided by FNL. Phrases like “I want her to have the baby” and “But it’s her decision ” are bandied about at least 50 times each, or so it feels, in the episodes leading up to Adrian’s appointment, until they almost lose meaning. Finally we came to the episode, just one prime-time night after Becky’s abortion, in which Adrian, sitting in the clinic, begins crying and decides “she couldn’t go through with it” thanks to a kind worker who talks her through her feelings.

It’s meant to be a feel-good moment, I suppose. But the show's creator, Brenda Hampton, neglected to portray the realism of getting an abortion in a small town. She made the mistake of assuming that every town just has a women’s health clinic right down the road, and that the freedom of choice Adrian enjoys is given to any woman who wants it, so she can make a decision in a vacuum.

Interestingly, the show uses the language and values of choice--”It’s her decision and we have to stand by her” -- even as its character predictably decides not to do it. This plot line served to exemplify a new kind of anti-choice rhetoric in the country, one that pays lip service to the concept of a woman’s decision being her own--an indication of a victory for the pro-choice side. But according to this logic, one choice remains better than the other, the superior choice, the choice that makes you a good person. That is the message of “Secret Life,” and that’s the message that has the most danger for the pro-choice movement--it allows for abortion to remain nominally legal but full of loopholes, requirements and stalling tactics that make it a choice in name only.

For many in Becky and Adrian’s situation, there are no supportive adults around, however. Unfortunately for them, the parental notification laws that are on the books make it impossible for them to undergo the procedure alone or with a friend.

But beyond this, the Center for American Progress counted 23 new laws and initiatives, this year alone, which attempted everything from making a fetus a person at conception to making it nearly impossible for women’s care providers to meet targeted standards. According to report authors Jessica Arons and Alexandra Cawthorne, these laws indicate “renewed momentum” for the incremental anti-choice agenda. They write:

Some 600 such laws have passed since 1995. States currently have abortion laws that, among other things, mandate biased counseling and burdensome waiting periods, impose costly and unnecessary clinic regulations, require parental notification or consent, restrict funding for abortion, ban a safe pre-viability abortion procedure, and allow health care providers to refuse to provide needed medical care.

For young women like Adrian and Becky, the emotional decision to have an abortion would only be the beginning. That’s what FNL got right.

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