Many of the best TV shows take the time to broach controversial topics. Over the years, opinions on abortion have shifted, and despite the current political climate, the topic has been appearing more and more on the small screen. Whether they took a decidedly pro-choice stance or kept things sort of vague, here are just a few of the best series to discuss abortion on TV.
1. Jane the Virgin
In the Season 2 finale of The CW’s self-aware telenovela, Jane’s mother Xiomara reveals that she’s pregnant following a brief tryst with her ex’s professional rival. What’s more, the reason she and said ex (Jane’s father, Rogelio) broke up was that Xo didn’t want any more children.
The show’s depiction of abortion has been hailed as one of the greatest on TV to date, in that it prompted little fanfare. Sometime in between the first and second episodes of Season 3, Xo has the procedure done, and the only struggle she has with her decision revolves around telling her religious mother, Alba. In the end, Alba acknowledges the choice was Xo’s alone, and the two make up.
2. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
2016 was a great year for realistic portrayals of abortion on TV, especially on The CW. Rachel Bloom’s wacky musical comedy has tackled several issues that are considered taboo, but one of the most poignant was that of Paula’s abortion.
Right after deciding she wants to go back to school to become a lawyer, legal assistant and married mother of two Paula discovers that she’s pregnant. The show broaches the misconception that it’s just unwed teenagers and 20-somethings who get abortions, and depicts a supportive husband and family who agree Paula should put her career first. In fact, the only drama surrounding the procedure is the falling out between Rebecca and Paula, which says a lot more about Rebecca’s selfishness than it does the abortion.
3. Good Girls Revolt
This short-lived Amazon series is based off of real events in the journalism world in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It explored themes of women in the workplace, and one important episode snuck in a subplot about abortion that shows how things were often handled at the time.
Angie, secretary to publisher Finn and all-around office superhero, has realized that she’s pregnant, and tries taking an herb called tansy oil. This was before Roe v. Wade, so abortion was illegal, dangerous, and expensive. After explaining to her co-worker that she already has three children and can’t afford a fourth, the girls in the office rally together to raise the funds necessary to get the procedure done.
While all of the examples thus far feature adult mothers, there are still cases of on-screen teenagers who consider abortion. On Shameless, we get to see one such example — with a couple of twists.
Season 5 saw Debbie knowingly get pregnant, after telling her unwilling boyfriend she was on birth control. When her big sister Fiona finds out, she insists that Debbie have an abortion, only to be met with lies and defiance. The plot bridged seasons, with Season 6 opening with a trio of episodes on the subject, including Episode 2, “#AbortionRules,” during which Fiona discovers she too is pregnant, and, a few episodes later, gets an abortion herself. Debbie, on the other hand, keeps her baby, giving birth toward the end of the season.
5. BoJack Horseman
While a 2010 Family Guy episode addressing abortion was banned, another animated series was able to make progress years later. Netflix’s BoJack Horseman featured the procedure (and a poignant discussion on the topic) in a Season 3 episode.
Diana, friend to the eponymous character and struggling writer, pulls a modern move after discovering that she’s pregnant and accidentally tweets that she’s getting an abortion. However, she does this from the account of millennial pop star Sextina Aquafina, who, in a surprising turn of events, receives so much positive media attention that she turns it into an opportunity for a new (horrifying) music video on the subject.
In the end, the satirical commentary greatly overshadows the procedure itself.
6. Friday Night Lights
The U.S. state that has had the most media attention on it when it comes to abortion is likely Texas. So it seemed apropos when the Lone Star State-set drama, Friday Night Lights broached the topic in a Season 4 episode.
After sleeping with Luke, Becky finds out that she’s pregnant and doesn’t know who to turn to. Tim, having experienced the wisdom of the Taylors firsthand, takes Becky to speak with Tami, who helps her make a decision. Becky is supported by her own mother (who had her as a teenager) and is eventually satisfied with her decision, but Tami faces backlash from the conservative community.
The various iterations of Degrassi (Junior High, High, The Next Generation, and Next Class) have all had one major thing in common: they “go there.” The Canadian series is known for tackling tough teen topics, so pregnancy and abortion have come up several times.
It was first brought up in Degrassi High in 1989, when Erica and her twin Heather disagree on the subject, though the latter eventually accompanies her sister to the clinic. The most highly regarded instance shows up in Manny’s arc in Degrassi: The Next Generation, which depicts rumors spreading throughout the school, a case of highly religious parents, and even a best friend (Emma) who disagrees with the solution because she herself is the child of a teen mother (the original series’ Spike).
More recently, Lola of Degrassi: Next Class quietly sleeps with Miles, her best friend’s big brother, and confides in an unlikely classmate, who goes with her in an Uber to get the procedure done.
It’s infrequent that we see an abortion episode from the perspective of the prospective father. A 2013 episode of the NBC drama Parenthood — which shares a creator with Friday Night Lights in Jason Katims — did just that, when a 17-year-old Drew learns his girlfriend, Amy, is pregnant.
We don’t see Amy struggle or grapple with her decision. Rather, it’s Drew who is unsure, but holds his tongue and accompanies his girlfriend to the clinic. Later, he lets go and allows himself to feel sad in the company of his comforting mother.
9. Sex and the City
As a pioneer in female-led programming, Sex and the City would have been remiss to not include the subject of abortion. But it wasn’t until Season 4 that the subject came up, and even then, there was no procedure.
Miranda discovers she’s pregnant after a spontaneous hookup with Steve, her ex (at the time). She broaches the subject with her girlfriends, who each act according to their strictly designated personalities: Charlotte acts as though it’s an affront to her own struggles with fertility, Samantha flippantly declares she’s had two abortions, and Carrie falls somewhere in the middle, discussing her own while supporting her pal.
Miranda ends up continuing with the pregnancy, but it was still a good, well-rounded discussion on the topic, especially for 2001.
10. Dawson’s Creek
But cable wasn’t the only platform where the subject was broached, then dismissed in the early ‘00s. In 2000, Dawson’s Creek explored the subject, in a very whiny Dawson-like manner.
Gail learns she’s pregnant and decides to have an abortion based on her age and the family’s monetary situation. The entitled teenage lead of the series lashes out at his mom and dad (who is genuinely supportive, despite not being happy with her choice).
Like Miranda, Gail doesn’t terminate the pregnancy, and what we’re left with is just another example of how far TV (and the pro-choice movement) has come.
11. Grey’s Anatomy
Shonda Rhimes’ long-running medical drama has always tackled difficult topics with ease, and abortion is no different. And due to the fact that all of the characters are doctors, the show was able to take a slightly more technical look at pregnancy. It also, interestingly enough, involved the same character making the choice twice.
Cristina began sleeping with Burke in Season 1, and learns of her pregnancy at the end of the season, pragmatically choosing to have an abortion. Before she can have the procedure, she collapses in the operating room and needs surgery for a burst fallopian tube, ending the pregnancy.
Years later, Cristina once again finds out she’s pregnant, which puts a rift in her relationship with Owen when she reveals that she doesn’t want children, and goes through with the procedure.
12. Jessica Jones
While most of the entries on this list are pivotal in their own right, none can touch the impact made by the abortion storyline in Jessica Jones. The Netflix Marvel series is feminist and modern in so many ways, but this plot stands out as truly important.
Hope Shlottman, the young girl under Kilgrave’s control, finds out that she’s pregnant while in jail. The avenues explored here include the definition of rape (Hope was under Kilgrave’s mind control when they had sex) and what happens when it results in pregnancy, the lack of acceptable health care in the prison system, and the practice of a medication abortion, which is rarely discussed in the media but is an incredibly common method for women up to 10 weeks into their pregnancy.
Additionally, what makes the episode unique is that there are no dissenting parties involved in the discussion.
13. Party of Five
If you thought the ‘00s were a difficult time to discuss abortion on television, the ‘90s were downright terrible. But leave it to family drama Party of Five to cover it among the many, many tough subjects the series addressed during its six-season run.
Julia and her boyfriend Justin have been sleeping together for a couple of months when she learns that she’s pregnant, and ultimately decides to have an abortion. The day of the procedure she suffers a miscarriage, but both her pregnancy and choice weigh on her for episodes (even seasons) to come. They even have ramifications on others in her life: Sarah and Bailey had been planning to sleep together for the first time, but Sarah decides against it after learning of Julia’s pregnancy.
A few years after the Party of Five storyline, another teen drama, Felicity, gave it a go. This time, we get a look at the baby daddy drama angle, showing slightly more mature characters who’ve had multiple partners in the same time period.
Noel’s girlfriend Ruby learns that she’s pregnant, and he panics, but with prompting from Ben decides to step up. However, it’s quickly revealed that Noel couldn’t be responsible, and Ruby confesses that she slept with someone else while they were apart.
Though, like most shows at the time, the woman doesn’t actually have the procedure, there was still an interesting dialogue around taking responsibility for your actions.
15. House of Cards
In the modern age, writers are able to convey the scandal that often surrounds the subject of abortion, without portraying that as their point of view. A House of Cards plotline that stretched throughout Season 2 takes a look at the special scrutiny public figures face, especially when it comes to this topic.
Claire has had three abortions it’s later revealed. However, she first admits to only one, during an on-camera interview, which she attributes to a pregnancy that came out of rape. The audience learns that this isn’t true, but that she was, in fact, raped; she merely combined the two stories in hopes of garnering a more supportive reaction from the public.
Yes, the Underwoods commit many deplorable acts, but this is one example of a time where Claire’s lie really doesn’t hurt anyone.