Regardless of what anti-choice people say, abortion is not black and white — and you don’t have to have gone through one yourself to understand how complicated it is, you just have to turn on the TV.
It’s refreshing to see more and more depictions of abortion in pop culture because for a long time the primary narrative was that it was always the last resort and a heartbreaking decision. And, while that’s certainly the case for some pregnant people, it’s not everyone’s story. Like any other healthcare scenario (and abortion is healthcare), there is a myriad of circumstances that can result in the decision to terminate a pregnancy, and each person who goes through this process and the procedure has their own unique experience.
By showing abortion in different contexts, TV shows and movies have the power to help open audiences’ minds and push a more accurate narrative — that abortion is not one-size-fits-all.
From a failed morning-after pill to a mom with no desire for a second child to a powerful woman who was more interested in a career than in parenthood, here are some of the many incredible portrayals of abortion in movies and TV shows.
1. ‘Jane the Virgin’
When she was just a teenager, Xiomara (Andrea Navedo) got pregnant with Jane (Gina Rodriguez), and with the support (and pressure) from her very religious mom she decided to move forward with the pregnancy and raise her daughter even though she was just a kid herself.
Flash forward 20-some years, Jane is a full-grown adult and Xiomara is finally experiencing the freedom she gave up as a teenager and she has no desire to have another child. When she gets pregnant from a one-night stand, Xiomara once again feels pressure from her mother to keep the baby, but this time she decides to terminate the pregnancy. We don’t see the abortion happen on TV, but we do see her decision-making process and the fallout she experiences with her mom following the procedure.
For Xiomara, she had made the sacrifice once, and she wasn’t willing to do it again, even if it meant jeopardizing her relationship with her mom.
2. ’13 Reasons Why’
After discovering she was pregnant with Bryce Walker’s (Justin Prentice) baby in season two of 13 Reasons Why, Chloe (Anne Winters) decides to get an abortion, rather than upend her life as a teenager in season three. The show’s depiction of the process is extremely emotional, as Chloe goes to what she thinks is a women’s crisis center but is actually a place where they give her an exam, tell her that she and her baby are very healthy, and then try to talk her out of having an abortion. She leaves the facility and is still determined to get the abortion.
When she finally gets to a clinic that actually performs the procedure, she’s bombarded by anti-choice protestors as she tries to enter (and someone even throws a fake fetus covered in blood at her). Once she’s safely inside, the staff is kind to her, but she still goes into the procedure alone and viewers watch the painful expression on her face as they hear the sound of suctioning from the abortion.
What makes this portrayal so poignant is seeing just how much Chloe had to fight and how many people tried to stand in her way and make her feel like a monster as she tried to get the healthcare she needed.
When Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) moved into the White House to finally be with Fitz (Tony Goldwyn), the experience was much more suffocating and demeaning than the strong-willed, ambitious woman imagined. She was already unhappy, and when she discovered she was pregnant, she knew having a baby with the president would essentially seal her fate — and she wanted none of it.
What made her abortion stand out so much here is that it wasn’t a big deal. It wasn’t the main storyline. The audience didn’t have to sit through 40 minutes of Olivia painstakingly deciding whether or not she wanted the baby. Instead, she simply shows up at a clinic, alone (except for the secret service, of course), and goes back to the exam room. We see her positioned with her feet in the stirrups in a procedure room, see the doctor turn on a suction machine, and watch her white-knuckle the table. After that, it’s over. The show treated it as an uncomfortable medical procedure and then moved on to focus on Olivia’s unwillingness to play the part of the doting First Lady when she could be so much more.
4. ‘Dirty Dancing’
Dirty Dancing was released in 1987, but it was set in the summer of 1963, 10 years before Roe v. Wade. In it, a working-class woman, Penny (Cynthia Rhodes), ends up pregnant by Robbie (Max Cantor), a fellow co-worker (and a real asshole). Robbie wants nothing to do with the baby, and Penny is essentially told she has to “take care of it” or lose her job. So, in the age when abortion wasn’t accessible (or legal in some places), Penny had to take what she could get from a sketchy doctor.
Later in the movie, we see Penny fighting for her life because the abortion was performed by a “butcher” doctor with “a dirty knife and folding table,” and, of course, Robbie can’t be bothered to help her.
We don’t see the procedure on screen, and the word “abortion” is never actually used in the movie, but we all know what happened. Today, it’s both a reminder of how far we’ve come as a country in that it’s no longer taboo to openly discuss the topic in film and TV, but also a warning of what women may have to endure again when Roe is overturned.
Not only does Shrill unabashedly approach the topic of abortion but it does it in the show’s pilot episode. Annie (Aidy Bryant), the show’s main character, is relatively happy when she discovers she’s pregnant (and that Plan B doesn’t work for women over 175 pounds). The baby’s father is a jerk hookup buddy who takes Annie for granted, and within 20 minutes of the first episode, Annie is at an abortion clinic, holding her best friend’s hand, and listening to a doctor explain the procedure. While she does express a little fear that this may be her only shot at having a baby, once she’s undergone the abortion, Annie is not full of regret. Instead, she’s empowered to make the most of the path she chose.
6. ‘You’re the Worst’
Honestly, if you are going to judge Lindsay (Kether Donohue) from You’re the Worst for anything, it’s not that she ended a pregnancy, but how she got pregnant in the first place. In an attempt to manipulate her husband, Paul (Allan McLeod), she froze his sperm left over in a condom without his knowledge, then later impregnated herself with it (again, without his knowledge). It’s only after she’s successful that she realizes she doesn’t actually want to raise a family with Paul so she decides to terminate the pregnancy. It’s very matter of fact.
Despite the dramatics in her means to get pregnant, her decision not to move forward is uneventful. She makes her decision, goes to the clinic, and moves on as if it were any other minor outpatient procedure. It’s such a refreshing take.
7. ‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always’
Released in 2020, Never Rarely Sometimes Always follows Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), a teenager from Pennsylvania who finds herself pregnant and unable to get an abortion without telling her parents thanks to the state’s parental consent laws. So, she and her best friend/cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) scrape up money and venture to New York City where she can get an abortion in peace.
Eventually, she’s able to have to procedure (I’ll spare you spoilers surrounding the actual scene), but the whole movie is less about the abortion itself and more about the girls’ trip together and the hoops people have to jump through in order to get access to a safe abortion.
Another story of a pregnant teenager and a boyfriend who wants nothing to do with it. Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) ends up pregnant with McKay’s (Algee Smith) baby in Euphoria season 1 and his first reaction to the news is to pressure her into getting an abortion. It’s a more stereotypical portrayal of abortion because Cassie does struggle with the decision and we watch her go through the process of finding the right answer for herself. Eventually, she confides in and seeks the advice of her mom and sister, who ultimately support her in her decision to go forward with the abortion (and, of course, even though she does what he wants, McKay is MIA through the process). Despite the internal battle she went through to ultimately choose an abortion, after going through with it, she tells her mom that she feels better and is relieved to have it behind her.
These are just some of the many depictions of abortion in movies and TV now, and they’re just the characters that actually go through with the procedure, there are plenty of others who decide it’s not the right choice for them — but the fact is that it’s a choice and every circumstance is different.
It’s important that we continue to normalize the decision to have an abortion in various contexts because it’s not as simple as anti-choice people make it seem. And the sooner they understand that, the safer our healthcare will be (and, hopefully, the sooner they’ll learn to mind their own damn business).