Terminating a pregnancy.
Ending a pregnancy before it is carried to term and a baby is born.
An abortion is a medical procedure done with either pills or surgery, and it makes some people uncomfortable. Some people find it more uncomfortable than others.
However, an abortion is a life experience many people go through. And yet, somehow, the accuracy of its portrayal hasn’t . . . hasn’t quite made its way into art. Not quite in a way that is true to life, and not quite in a way that’s necessarily respectful.
I hypothesise that there are political reasons for this, just as there are technical reasons why it’s difficult to create art about abortion.
When I first read about abortions, it was in trashy teen romance novels, where a young teen gets pregnant and her step mother pulls her into a back alley because they won’t have her shaming the family.
When I first watched abortion on TV, it was Crazy Ex Girlfriend when Paula, a married woman with two teenage sons, decided to get an abortion so she could continue on in law school. She struggled with the decision and shame, lamenting at one point she didn't want to get an abortion because she wasn’t some teenage girl.
Wow. Well, the former example is definitely a traumatising view of abortion. Irresponsible teen girls . . . affecting the family . . . trauma through an unexpected pregnancy . . .
The latter is, of course, a more true to life and subdued account of abortion.
But some things don’t quite add up for me, or taste quite right, still.
What is true to life? Well, the majority of people who get abortions, define their feelings following the procedure as relieved.
How often do we see that emotion in books, in movies, and in television?
What is it about abortions that makes them so hard to write about and show in art?
For one thing, there are the political elements.
Let’s look at what celebrities have to say about their abortion experiences:
“It was not an easy choice,” she continued. “It was not something I wanted, but it was something that I needed, like most health care is.”
"I was assaulted, raped, and very, very vulnerable. How was I going to raise a child?”
"I had an abortion. I just simply wasn’t in a place, financially or emotionally to take that on.”
"It was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make. I still think about it to this day.”
"It was the hardest thing I'd ever gone through. [It’s] haunted me all my life. It'd be contradictory if I said I wasn't pro-choice. I wasn't ready. I didn't have anything to offer a child.”
Let’s compare what these celebrities have to say, to anonymous accounts of abortion from the site shoutyourabortion.com
Abortion saved me from a terrible person.
I’ll never forget and I’ll never regret.
I had an abortion and I don’t feel bad about it.
My abortion freed me.
I have never regretted my decisions and am very proud of myself for being brave enough to make a decision that was right for me.
There is definitely a difference in tone between the way celebrities talk about their abortions, and the way anonymous people on the internet share their stories.
We can come to a few conclusions about abortions based on the differences:
ONE: THE PUBLIC EXPECTS APOLOGETIC BEHAVIOUR
At least a little apologetic. At the very least, when celebrities talk about their abortions, they provide a justification for why they had their abortion. It’s almost like they are working to convince the public it was the right decision.
On the other hand, anonymous people by and large are less apologetic. No doubt, a person sharing their abortion story anonymously does not need to convince the public to like or spare them. Their livelihoods don't depend on being liked in the same way a celebrity's does. Anonymous people, unlike celebrities, do not make statements that cater to the public’s sensibilities.
TWO: THE PUBLIC EYE IS DANGEROUS
If celebrities need to frame their abortion experience differently than anonymous people, we can logically assume there’s a modicum of danger in absolute honesty. Or, there is danger if their abortion story isn't "good enough."
For a television series, novel, or other form of art, a creator must put themselves in the spotlight. It is a dangerous place if they do not frame the abortion in the story in an “acceptable” way. Therefore, when artists portray abortion, they face the same concerns a celebrity has when sharing an abortion story.
Does the character suffer enough? Are they apologetic enough? Is their story acceptable enough for the public eye?
THREE: ANONYMOUS ACCOUNTS ARE MORE TRUE TO LIFE
If people giving their abortion stories are afraid of public reproach, then it stands to reason that anonymous accounts are more accurate.
The anonymous accounts of abortion from shoutyourabortion frequently share, “I don’t regret anything at all.” We can reasonably assume that most people who get abortions do not regret anything. However, celebrities and artists in the spotlight aren’t able to state that as openly, or unapologetically.
Stories about abortion in books, in movies, and television have the same restraints.
FOUR: THE WAYS ABORTIONS ARE PORTRAYED IS INACCURATE
Based on the forms of abortions we find in literature: young, traumatised teenage girls; women having excessive difficulty in their decision; women exclusively having abortions (where are the nonbinary and trans accounts of abortion?) . . . are these stories seriously an accurate portrayal of abortion?
If the portrayal of abortion is needed to be altered for public sensibility, then it stands to reason that the way we see abortions portrayed in art is inaccurate, unless the writers and creators are anonymous.
And how often is an entire artistic crew anonymous? Really?
Art isn’t accurately representing life. On the contrary, when it comes to abortion, art is appeasing life.
FIVE: CONFLICT AND SUFFERING IS EXPECTED FROM ABORTION STORIES
How often has an abortion being brought up on television, in literature, or in art in general, and the person getting the abortion needed to struggle with the decision?
Some people will struggle with the decision to get an abortion. But if art is showing exclusively people who struggle, then it’s not an accurate portrayal of real life.
The bare minimum for presenting abortion in art is that the person seeking it must suffer, at least a little bit. This takes the form of struggling with the decision.
Or, in extreme cases, with forced abortions, abuse, pressuring one way or another, or external cases of villainy involving abortions.
No matter what, creating art is an inherently political exercise. People are cast to increase the watch appeal for their show, whether or not they are the right actors. Characters are killed off if an actor falls out of favour with the public and are seen as a detriment to the success. Stories are altered to increase sales.
Therefore, the portrayal of abortions is subject to the same politics as every other aspect of creating artwork. The way abortions are shown on television attempt to appease the public sensibilities, but do not accurately portray abortions.
However, political reasons aren’t the only reasons abortions aren’t accurately portrayed.
One of the first rules a person learns as a writer is that stories need conflict.
Somewhere further down the road, an artist will learn they need to make their characters suffer.
These are principles of narrative, character development and of making an engaging story.
How does this relate to abortion?
Well, when abortion is presented in a story, a character must suffer about it in some way. There must be some degree of conflict surrounding the abortion.
This is not a political point of view: it is simply a fact with the rules of writing. If the character does not suffer over having an abortion, there is no reason to have the abortion in the story.
With that being said . . .
Aren’t there enough real world abortion conflicts that we don’t need to rely on old tropes of women being forced into it, setting the table for their “dead child” for years to come, and agonising over the decision?
There are current, relevant, real world conflicts:
States that are putting bills in place to limit abortions, such as the heartbeat bill.
Ectopic pregnancies being told to be “reimplanted” into the uterus (despite being scientifically impossible).
A person’s class and income determining their access to abortions. Specifically, middle class white people can usually take a few days off and drive to a far away abortion clinic if need be. A poor immigrant might not have the luxury of time off and transportation, and might also be ineligible to a safe procedure if they are unregistered.
This is not even to mention the psychological abuse that occurs whenever forced birth extremists protest outside abortion clinics. How many people are being called “murderer” on a daily basis?
And what about the erased stories about nonbinary, trans men, and genderqueer individuals who get abortions?
I would challenge anyone writing about abortion in the future, anyone who wants to take on the task, to see how close to life you can get. Let’s make it mainstream in popular culture to have abortion stories that more accurately represent the world around abortions.
I would also encourage people who know of accurate stories to share them. I am certain that stories that meet the above criteria exist, but they have yet to make it into the mainstream. For the ones already out there, let’s share.
Let’s do away with outdated stereotypes. Yes, we need conflict in a story. But abortions are rife with conflict. The only thing is, most of these conflicts don’t come from personal struggles, so much as obstacles placed by forced birth extremists.
Let’s have art be an accurate representation of life when it comes to abortion.
Let’s have art stop trying to appease life, and the general public.
After all, what is art if it doesn’t make people at least a little uncomfortable. Yenno, shake up the status quo?