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Could Pop Culture Be Doing Better on Abortion?

By Alyssa Rosenberg on September 27, 2011 at 1:38 pm

"Could Pop Culture Be Doing Better on Abortion?"

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I don’t know that I’ve ever sat through an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, but I was pleasantly surprised to hear from readers that in the second episode of this season of the show, Sandra Oh’s character, Cristina Yang, had an abortion — and not because she got pregnant and it was inconvenient, or because she was raped, or because she’s broke and desperate — but because she doesn’t want to have children. Which is one of those things that people feel, but still gets treated as if it’s a risky thing to say unless you’re Helen Mirren.

So I watched the episode, and I actually thought they did a pretty nice job with it — particularly with this scene, which I thought was a good illustration of how stressful it must be to terminate a pregnancy without the support of your partner:

Grey‘s is a soap opera, but it’s a soap opera that reached an average of 11.41 million people per episode last season. So this is big, even if it’s a one-off.

Then, there’s also the news that Mindy Kaling is developing a show for NBC where she plays an ob/gyn, a character she’s basing on her mother who, as her brother puts it in the profile of Kaling that recently ran in the New York Times, is “a professional gossip who does Pap smears.” I really, really hope that there’s a way for the show to handle abortion at some point. It would get ridiculous fairly quickly for an ob/gyn to only ever has patients who are overjoyed about their pregnancies and to never have a patient who doesn’t want to be pregnant, or can’t — for whatever reason — stay pregnant. At minimum, there have to be conversations about birth control and sexual and reproductive health, and the mere possibility of something like that being on network television every week makes me so joyous my heart runs the risk of exploding.

The fact that we live in a world where women making vagina jokes on networks is enough to send some dude-critics to the fainting couch illustrates how necessary something like Kaling’s show is, how necessary Grey‘s decision was. These shows don’t have to end the conversation, but they’re a vital acknowledgment that lady business isn’t just that.

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