That’s the message we’re to infer from the recent episode of NBC’s hit show “Parenthood” titled “Small Victories,” in which the teen character Amy casually decides to abort her baby because, as she explains to her boyfriend, “If I have this baby, my life is over.”
Apparently the figurative end of her life would be a bigger deal than the literal end of a baby’s.
On the show, Amy’s boyfriend, Drew, objects to the abortion and tries to map out a hopeful future for the potential young family. “It doesn’t have to be over,” he says. “We could start a life. I can go to college. I can get a job. There are plenty of people who can help us.”
No go. It’s her decision and she has made it. All she wants from her baby’s father is the money to kill it.
“Parenthood’s” version of the abortion decision is a stark departure from the established narrative when it comes to abortion on television. Since the first abortion storyline on the sitcom “Maude” in November 1972, characters have generally struggled with the choice to abort. (At the time, abortion was legal in New York, where the fictional characters lived, though the federal court didn’t overturn state laws banning abortion until two months later.)
Maude, the character created by Norman Lear and played by Bea Arthur, was a 47-year-old mother of an adult daughter who was unprepared to start over to raise a child, and unwilling to face the risks of a late-in-life pregnancy. Her reticence at being pregnant was entirely understandable, so Mr. Lear and his writers must have assumed that her decision also would be perceived as reasonable.
To say the double episode “Maude’s Decision” was controversial is an understatement. Abortion was hardly mentioned on TV for more than 15 years after it aired.
Gradually, though, an abortion narrative has emerged. Ironically, it’s not the one that pro-choice advocates prefer.
Typically on TV, the pregnant woman goes through a period of emotional turmoil, during which abortion is portrayed as an understandable and reasonable option, but the tugs of maternal instinct — or sometimes the love between the baby’s mother and father — are seen as conflicting with the obvious convenience and practicality of an abortion.
Through the years, characters on TV who face the abortion decision have usually (and conveniently) miscarried or else backed out at the last minute and decided instead to carry their babies to term.
Men often are portrayed as wanting their babies to be born, but never are they given a voice in the decision. It’s always and only up to the woman, proving Hollywood does get it right on some issues.
And pro-life voices are heard only in the context of their crazy, radical, judgmental worldview. Christians, and especially Catholics, are portrayed as uncaring about anyone except the unborn, regardless of a woman’s dire circumstances. Proving Hollywood knows very few Christian or Catholic pro-lifers, and has never researched the services they provide — free of charge — to women in crisis pregnancies.
Still, abortion is usually seen as a hard choice, a narrative that abortion advocates actually resent.
That’s why the people at Planned Parenthood are claiming “Parenthood” as their “Small Victory” — not only because one scene takes place in a clean, comfortable, professionally staffed Planned Parenthood clinic, where Amy gets the full range of crisis pregnancy counseling before confidently choosing to off her child — but also because Amy’s detachment from the life growing inside her is precisely the new narrative — and thus, the new norm — that they seek.
It wasn’t a total victory for abortion advocates. The word “abortion” is uttered only a few times in the episode, as it was barely mentioned on “Maude” more than 40 years ago.
Some things just don’t get less ugly over time.
It’s estimated that 55 million lives have been lost to the U.S. Supreme Court’s declaration that a woman’s right to privacy with her doctor trumps her baby’s right to see the light of day.
That narrative will never be “no big deal” to some of us.