The ways that pop culture has reinforced abortion stigma extend beyond just the visibility—or lack thereof—of the choice. A recent census by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco—the first comprehensive, quantitative look at abortion storylines in TV and film—tallied over 300 plot lines in which a character considered an abortion between 1916 and 2013, including 87 on primetime network television. Given how common the procedure is in real life—not to mention how frequently totally uncommon things happen in Hollywood—that’s a small number, but it’s not nothing. And there’s been a general upward trend. The last decade, in particular, has witnessed an explosion of such storylines—more than double the total from the previous decade.
Fictional abortions are also frequently portrayed as far riskier than they actual are. Whether or not she actually got one, 13.5 percent of characters who considered abortion ended up dead. In many of these cases, she died as a direct result of complications from the abortion—making the risk of death for a fictional abortion 9 percent, while the actual risk is statistically zero. Given that misinformation about abortion is the rule, not the exception, such misrepresentations matter. A study of women who had received abortions found that over three fourths overestimated the health risks, and almost half overestimated the risk of depression, after a first-trimester abortion.
Read more from Feministing.com Executive Director of Editorial Mary Dusenbery’s piece "How Pop Culture Reinforces Abortion Stigma—and Can Help End It," part of Media Consortium’s Reproductive Rights in Pop Culture