Why does abortion have to be such a quiet subject?

Now that season 13 of Grey’s Anatomy has started I cannot help myself but relate every sitcom we watch or read about to Grey’s. I am a bit obsessed with the show so every little thing reminds me of it in some aspect. I got ahead on our assignments so I already watched the 1970’s show called Maude, but I still think it is crucial to recognize the similarities between Maude and Grey’s Anatomy. Specifically, when Maude aborts her child this reminds me exactly of when Cristina Yang chooses to have an abortion. From the very first season Cristina makes it clear that she does not want kids, she is strictly medicine and business. But when Cristina and her boyfriend, Burke, get pregnant, she senses that he wants to keep the baby. Although Cristina and Burke are in love and almost get married in a later season, Cristina’s attitude and perception toward being a mother does not change, therefore she decides to have an abortion without Burke knowing. With the pro-life/pro-choice debate raging in the United States, especially in the political realm, Cristina’s abortion plotline was an attempt at defusing the issue and going against the norm.

cristina yang.pngStill from Grey’s Anatomy, “Save Me” (Season 1, Episode 8, 2005.)

The episode “Maude’s Dilemma” is very similar. Maude and her husband, however, mutually decide that having a baby is not the smartest decision, given their age. Nonetheless, both shows challenge a very critical subject. Abortion is a very quiet matter, especially on television. Abortion has been tightly criticized by religious views, which is probably why most producers stray away from the controversial issue. While analyzing this issue, however, I found a writer that reasons with Maude rather than criticizing her. In the last three paragraphs of Amanda Marcotte’s article she acknowledges the realistic portrayal of Maude’s abortion. Maude was confused, emotional, but also reasonable (Maude did not want to risk the baby’s health and wellness by having a baby at such an old age). Therefore, Maude and Cristina Yang both help lighten an issue that is often silenced. There will always be disagreements regarding abortion, so television deserves to be able to portray both incidences (characters having babies as well as characters going through with an abortion).

Jenna Romano (Blog #3)

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13 Responses to Why does abortion have to be such a quiet subject?

  1. mediaphiles says:

    This is an excellent point, and my lack of awareness of abortions on TV proves how invisible they are. Certainly this is a result of discomfort at broaching the subject, something that has remained from the 1970s (as you indicated in Maude) until now. I think shows can help play a role in social change, showing viewers that these decisions are not selfish or murderous but are in fact rooted in concern at the potential baby’s well being that is in dialogue with the capability of the parents to parent. If shows could normalize abortion, I’m sure positive social changes would ensue.

  2. mediaphiles says:

    I think both of these characters, especially Maude, help to normalize abortion. I feel like because this subject is so sensitive that people sometimes forget the different circumstances people fall under when deciding to have an abortion. Not in all cases do the women or partners involved make the choice to have an abortion merely for selfish reasons but for practical ones as well as we see with Maude. I think it’s very important to see more of this in an effort to help the judgements people make about abortions. -Courtney Green

  3. mediaphiles says:

    I think it’s really admirable when shows like Grey’s seek to normalize abortion rather than ignore it or treat it as something that never happens (or something that only happens in extreme circumstances). Grey’s Anatomy is interesting in that it does a fairly good job at mirroring real-life issues, so it feels necessary that it would give abortion this kind of attention. I also think it’s important that this particular episode addressed a situation in which the woman facing an unwanted pregnancy is in love with her partner, (presumably) financially stable and in a position to raise a child, and yet emotionally she’s not invested. Not only does this help normalize abortion, but it also disrupts the narrative that motherhood is the highest calling for all women.

    -Callie Sartain

    • mediaphiles says:

      I couldn’t agree more. For a show to display a woman who is financially capable and seemingly in love with her partner getting an abortion is admirable. It is crucial to display real world events and situations on television, because of its influence on society. I think television has become progressive in terms of delicate issues, but there is still work to be done. I applaud Grey’s for attacking the stereotype. – Katie N

  4. mediaphiles says:

    I could not agree more. It seems that abortion is only “interesting” when the women hides it from the men. Few examples are Cristina Yang and Burke, and even in Shonda’s other show Scandal when Olivia Pope aborts her child with Fitz. I question why this is the norm? Can abortion not be a joint decision? Can it not be talked about? Why does it need to be hidden, a secret?-Ally Harper

  5. mediaphiles says:

    I love this post. I feel that the concept of abortion is so taboo even today. We try not to bring up that subject in popular media today so I’m a little surprised it came up in the 1970’s. I guess in a sense that was really progressive of them to include a plot line of abortion. I did understand why Christina wanted the abortion though, she was focused on her career first.

    Laya Mohan

  6. mediaphiles says:

    My problem with some sitcoms, and modern society, is that women are conventionally expected to have children and start a family. Starting a family is not everyone’s “Happily Ever After” and it certainly was not Christina’s. I feel having an abortion makes the audience like a character less, which stems from the stigma against abortions. Thankfully, there are more sitcoms being released where women are asserting their independence, and I think that makes the character more two-dimensional. – Andrew Guido

  7. mediaphiles says:

    One show that engages this issue wonderfully (as is the case with everything it does) is BoJack Horseman. In season three, Diane gets pregnant, but she and her husband (a talking dog named Mr. Peanutbutter) decide to get an abortion, pretty much without any debate whatsoever. It’s not built up as this big difficult decision that’s super hard on her. It’s treated as just a simple choice: Diane decides to get an abortion. The end. With a lot of portrayals, even if the woman does get an abortion, it’s treated as a huge deal, as if no woman should get an abortion without paying in emotional turmoil and guilt. Not the case in BoJack. Instead, the central conflict of the episode occurs when Diane, who works as a celebrity publicist (basically managing celebrities’ social media accounts), accidentally tweets “I’m getting an abortion” from a huge pop star’s account. The episode’s focus shifts to how abortion is treated within the context of celebrity culture. And thus the show is able to comment on how big a deal we make of abortion in the first place.

    –Kevin Pabst

  8. mediaphiles says:

    I really enjoyed your post because as a social issue, abortion is not talked about. And if it is? It is frowned up and judged. Regardless of your view towards abortion, it is legal and shows should not shy away from story lines that include it. Cristina’s decision to not tell Burke and to have the abortion is an example of a real life dilemma for a woman whether the father is in the picture or not. Chelsea Handler has come out publicly about her abortion when she was younger and is not ashamed of it. She explains her reasons for it and does not try to hide. Abortion is a big deal if you support and it is a big if you do not.

    -Meg Murphy

  9. mediaphiles says:

    Great topic (I’m not sure if Grey’s counts as a sitcom, but it’s the show I’m most loyal to, if you can make it thru ghost sex s.5 you can make it thru anything). What I love most about this plotline is that Cristina never waivers in her decision to not have children. And her justifcations are so well done! Women are so demeaned when it comes to not wanting children. Doctors straight up will not tie a woman’s tubes if she is under 30, and insist on counseling if you are set on being sterilized. I don’t want children, and my birth control makes me depressed, and yet I’m incapable of being sure I don’t want children because I might change my mind some day. Uh, no. If I’ve felt this way for over ten years, I probably won’t. Yay Grey’s, I would do exactly what Cristina does.

    Elyse Conklin

  10. mediaphiles says:

    I too find it admirable that shows like Grey’s Anatomy are willing to challenge the status quo and touch on normally hushed topics such as abortion. As I caught up on my episodes of Scandal, Olivia Pope also encounters an abortion, however, the writers are careful not to explicitly say the word “abortion.” It’s nice to see shows that are now starting to challenge these conventions and set norms about touchy topics, however, there is a long way to go as far as truly delving into topics like abortion. For now, shows are simply skimming the surface. – Eleanor Raether

  11. marymdalton says:

    I admired the way the storyline was handled on Friday Night Lights, but — as you all point out — such storylines are few and generally constrained.

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