This researcher interviewed dozens of writers, creators, and showrunners about onscreen abortion. Here’s what she learned.
By Alissa Wilkinson
Aug 9, 2022
We’re a screen-soaked culture, and that means that what we see on TV and in movies often serves as a framework to look at the world around us. That’s certainly true for abortion. It’s still rare to see an abortion depicted, and even more rare to see it in a situation that matches the circumstances of most abortions in America; research has found that the most common abortion patient is a low-income, unmarried young mother, without a college degree, who is seeking her first abortion. The majority of abortion patients in America are non-white.
Yet that’s not the average depiction. And this affects not just what people think about abortion, but how viewers treat people who seek abortions, as well as how they think about public policy.
Abortion is legal but coloured by prejudice: Malayalam short film ‘Aval’ shows you how
The film is produced and co-written by a medical professional who says she has seen these violations happening for years.
Flix Cinema Monday, June 15, 2020 - 17:30
Although India has fairly liberal laws when it comes to abortion, medical professionals are often hostile to women who approach them to get the procedure done. In cinema, too, abortion has been equated to murder far too many times. With the glorification of pregnancy and motherhood, this important reproductive right which gives women autonomy over their own bodies is demonised repeatedly.
A Malayalam short film called Aval, directed by Adarsh Kumar Aniyal (of Raven fame) and released on YouTube recently, presents the bitter truth about the issue. In the film, a young woman in an abusive marriage who did not want to keep her pregnancy, develops postpartum depression and ends up killing her child. Interestingly, the film has been produced and co-written by a medical professional, Dr Veena JS.
Seeing Abortion Laws From a Teenager’s Point of View
Eliza Hittman explains how she came to make her timely odyssey “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” the unusual movie about abortion rights that makes bureaucracy the villain.
By Reggie Ugwu
April 3, 2020
Before writing her new movie, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” about the odyssey of a 17-year-old girl in present-day Pennsylvania seeking a legal abortion, the director Eliza Hittman embarked on a journey of her own. Hittman makes movies of quietly operatic intensity about vulnerable characters in unremarkable places. To find their narratives, she begins in the field, exploring prospective locations like a sculptor wandering a quarry.
Hittman, who is 40 and lives in Brooklyn, traveled by bus to a blue-collar town in Pennsylvania, where state law forbids minors from receiving an abortion without a parent’s consent. There, she toured so-called crisis pregnancy centers, which counsel against abortion regardless of circumstance, and posed as a woman who feared she might be pregnant and needed advice.
Planned Parenthood Goes to Hollywood
The group is winning in L.A., even as it’s losing in D.C. Can entertainment ultimately make a difference in the abortion wars?
Story by Nora Caplan-Bricker
September 23, 2019
It’s 10 a.m. on a Tuesday at Planned Parenthood’s New York headquarters, and I’m watching TV. Specifically, I’m watching a series of scenes clipped from movies and TV shows, all of which have two things in common: The woman beside me, Caren Spruch, had a hand in them, and each one features an abortion.
Spruch and I began our viewing session with her most recent such project, the Hulu series “Shrill.” Now, seated at a table in a white-walled conference room, we’re watching the first movie she worked on, 2014’s “Obvious Child.” Spruch is petite and animated, with a long face and dark bangs, like a more pixie-ish Anjelica Huston. She calls “Obvious Child” — a romantic comedy about an unemployed 20-something who finds herself pregnant after a one-night stand — “the one that changed the world,” setting a new standard for stories about abortion. She has seen it, she estimates, more than 25 times.
Breaking the Silence Around Abortion
August 12, 2019
American discourse has changed radically in the past decade around a number of social issues.
And yet, there is one topic that, while high on the list of divisive issues that get people riled up, remains shrouded in shame and secrecy. When it comes to reproductive rights, and specifically abortion, conversations, when they happen, typically exist on a theoretical plane. The reasons women (and other people capable of getting pregnant) don't disclose their abortions are in many ways obvious: it's a highly personal medical decision loaded with cultural baggage, and sharing that you had one can lead to dire consequences. It's relatively rare for women to tell even each other about their abortions. This of course isn't true for everyone — some people are more open than others. But the social stigma remains, and whether in deeply conservative communities or supposedly woke circles, talking about your abortion is taboo.
Hollywood rarely tells the truth about abortion. ‘Little Woods’ is different.
By Renee Bracey Sherman
April 23, 2019
Pop culture has made some progress since 1956, when an addition to the Motion Picture Production Code that governed Hollywood movie-making declared, “The subject of abortion shall be discouraged, shall never be more than suggested, and, when referred to, shall be condemned.” But even by contemporary standards, in which characters are allowed to have abortions and movies can depict those decisions positively, Nia DaCosta’s debut feature film, “Little Woods,” is a politically urgent revelation.
Rather than making the decision to have an abortion the major source of tension in the film, DaCosta starkly depicts the sacrifices that families make to afford health care, dramatizing the recent onslaught of restrictions on abortion. And her character’s choices place abortion in conversation with our national debate about opioid addiction and drug trafficking to illuminate these well-worn subjects in new ways.
The unsentimental abortion scene in ‘Shrill’ isn’t groundbreaking. Here’s why that’s a big deal.
By Bethonie Butler
March 19, 2019
About 20 minutes into the pilot episode of Hulu’s “Shrill,” the millennial writer at the center of the story has an abortion.
Annie, played by Aidy Bryant of “Saturday Night Live” fame, doesn’t dwell on her decision to terminate her pregnancy. And after a roughly two-minute scene that shows Annie undergoing the procedure with her best friend at her side for support, she barely mentions it again — save for a few passing references and one awkward encounter with her boyfriend’s mother that’s played for laughs.
Dec 20, 2016, Rewire
by Gretchen Sisson
The end of 2016 marks the close of a century since the first silent film in the United States addressed abortion. In these past 100 years, film, television, and our popular culture have addressed abortion in evolving ways: from the pre-code films of the 1920s, to the exploitation films of the 1940s, to television plotlines in support of legal abortion in the 1960s, to the alternately stigmatizing and stigma-busting portrayals of the 1990s and early 21st century. The incorporation of abortion into onscreen storylines has been done for shock value, for sex educational purposes, for humor, for drama, and for horror. This presentation is not an exhaustive list of abortion stories in U.S. film and television (there are over 200 of them!), but it is meant to illustrate some of the notable examples, groundbreaking firsts, and trends that have emerged over time.
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