NBC allegedly turned down advertisements for the new movie Obvious Child, a romantic comedy in which the main character decides to end an unplanned pregnancy, because they contained the word “abortion.” Page Six and The Wrap both independently reported the allegations, which officials from NBC are refuting.
Anonymous sources claim that three commercial spots were submitted to NBC in early May, but the network responded that they couldn’t run them if they contained the word “abortion.” Page Six reports that NBC said the subject matter was “inappropriate for viewers.” NBC, on the other hand, provided a statement saying that “initial feedback from our broadcast standards group did not include any suggestion to remove a specific word,” maintaining that production company A24 Films never submitted any final ad spots after it was provided with the network’s feedback.
Although it’s not clear exactly what happened, reproductive rights advocates are taking the opportunity to point out that abortion stigma — the attitude that the incredibly common procedure doesn’t belong in polite conversation — is all too common throughout U.S. society. As FlavorWire’s Alison Herman put it, even though Page Six’s anonymous report should be taken “with a pound’s worth of salt,” it’s still “depressingly believable” that a major network may consider abortion to be an inappropriate topic for their viewers.
NARAL Pro-Choice New York, which is located in the same state where Obvious Child takes place, went a step further. The group started an online petition to tell NBC that “abortion is not a dirty word.”
“Access to abortion is threatened by anti-choice legislation and policies, but also by the stigma that thwarts public dialogue and makes women feel ashamed,” Andrea Miller, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice New York, told ThinkProgress via email. “By refusing to run ads that use the word ‘abortion,’ NBC is perpetuating that stigma.”
Planned Parenthood is also encouraging its supporters to get involved by pressing NBC to respond on Twitter, using the hashtag #StopTheStigma. “We have reached out directly to NBC executives to engage in a conversation about their standards and their responsibility to contribute to honest, accurate, and sensitive discussions about women’s health,” Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement provided to ThinkProgress.
This isn’t the first time that a company or organization has gotten pushback for appearing to take a stance on abortion that reinforces the stigma around the procedure.
This past spring, reports emerged that TED Talks — the award-winning videos produced by a nonprofit group of the same name — doesn’t accept talks related to abortion because it doesn’t fit into TED’s focus on “wider issues of justice, inequality and human rights.” That inspired a similar petition and forced TED to try to smooth things over.
And more recently, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation garnered criticism for announcing that it will not fund abortion because “the emotional and personal debate about abortion is threatening to get in the way of the lifesaving consensus regarding basic family planning.” That’s not an unusual position among global health groups — but women’s health advocates argue that segregating abortion from the rest of reproductive services does much more harm than good.
Obvious Child, on the other hand, has been praised for challenging abortion stigma by bringing an unusually candid, positive portrayal of the procedure to the big screen. Overall, the abortions depicted in pop culture tend to be disproportionately violent.
A few NBC shows have aired plot lines related to abortion. In 2010, Friday Night Lights included an episode in which a 15-year-old decides to get an abortion — although that particular episode aired when that show was only on DirecTV, before it returned to a 10 pm spot on NBC. And last year, Parenthood aired an episode in which a high schooler is upset when his girlfriend decides to end a pregnancy.
Planned Parenthood launched a petition to NBC executives that garnered over 9,200 signatures in just 72 hours. The women’s health organization is asking the network to issue a “definitive statement that the word ‘abortion,’ or discussions of abortion, do not constitute a violation of NBC’s standards and will not be effectively banned on the network.”