Alan Ball To Make Up For Television’s Silence On Abortion. But To What End?

I really would like television to integrate abortion into its conversations about sex and reproduction. And I think Dr. George Tiller is a hero and a martyr. But given the way True Blood’s handled hot-button social issues this season, particularly the disgraceful way it’s handled race and the show’s general unsubtlety on gender, I have grave concerns about the prospect of Alan Ball doing an HBO show based on Tiller’s life, which is apparently his next project for HBO.

Ball and his problems aside, I’m trying to decide how I feel about approaching abortion through drama as opposed to comedy, and the idea of a show where it’s the focus as opposed to part of the scenery. It’s relatively easy to think what the plots for a drama might be like: the doctor is stalked, the doctor is attacked, the doctor tries to keep his staff’s morale up as they are harassed going about their business, doctor has all sorts of interactions with patients, patients’ relatives, etc. But I worry about how much a show like that would give credence to anti-abortion arguments in the name of appearing even-handed, or make the doctor a morally ambiguous character like Walter White or Tony Soprano, rather than wholeheartedly embracing the idea the preserving access to abortion under tremendously trying circumstances is a heroic act.

And I think part of the problem is that a show like this keeps abortion separate from the rest of our discourse about sex, from American life. Which of course it’s not. A show like Mindy Kaling’s OB/GYN comedy, if it manages to integrate abortion into a larger ongoing conversation about reproductive health and American sexual life, would push back against that. Abortions are not weird, freakish things that happen only to Fallen Women or in Back Alleys. They are rational, regularly-performed medical procedures. And while I do think it’s important to be honest about the fact that they are a medical procedure women aren’t always happy to have performed, shifting the debate towards normalization is critical. That’s a tremendously complex needle to thread. And I think I trust Mindy Kaling to do it more than I trust Alan Ball.