Abortion is a subject TV has traditionally handled with about same tact and restraint as a hysterical Nancy Grace hashtag. But this week's episode of ABC Family's The Fosters took a nuanced and humane look at how the same late term abortion politicians have targeted for criminalization affects families faced with what is often a heartbreaking choice.
The Jennifer Lopez-produced drama focuses on the life of interracial lesbian couple Stef and Lena raising a family that consists of Stef's biological son from a previous marriage and several foster children. Like most teen-focused dramas, it explores social themes like teen sexuality, drug experimentation, dating, parental relationships, and the approach of adulthood. Unlike most teen-focused dramas, The Fosters actually had the balls to tackle late-term abortion.
Monday's episode, entitled "Mother," begins with a 20-weeks-pregnant Lena dreaming about cuddling in bed with her wife until she's interrupted by the sound of her infant daughter stirring in a crib nearby. The couple rises and scoops the baby up, cradling and cooing at her. This is how the show gently guides your fragile heart into a basket tied to balloons buoyant with expectation. I will see a cute baby in this episode! This flawed but likable fictional couple is going to be so happy! your easily fooled brain tells you as the opening scene closes.
Unfortunately, your expectant little heart is about to be shattered into a million fucking pieces. As the episode progresses and the expectant mothers pick out a name for their daughter ("Frankie"), Lena's health begins to rapidly deteriorate, and she's eventually sent to the hospital, where a doctor delivers terrible news: she's suffering from a severe case of pre-eclampsia, and if the pregnancy continues, Lena could die. Because Lena's only 20 weeks along, there's virtually no chance of the child surviving an induced birth, either.
And so, like real-life families faced with the same horrifying prognosis, Lena decides to terminate her pregnancy. Stef is devastated. Their children are devastated. The doctor is devastated. Lena's mom is devastated. You are devastated. Everyone is devastated. It's heart-wrenching, but it's the sort of choice women face every day — risk your life, induce labor so you can give birth to an infant that you will watch die, or abort.
Nobody actually utters the word "abortion" during the episode; they stick to the sanitized "lost the baby," but most families who terminate a wanted pregnancy in order to save the life of the mother probably don't use the word, either.
Vulture's Margaret Lyons lauds the show's choice to Go There and reflects on it breaks from the show's "goodness in unexpected places" premise.
In general, the show has a "you'll be surprised how things work out" central premise: Think you want your biological parents to stay married? You'll be surprised — your dad's a frequently irresponsible alcoholic, but your mom's new wife is actually the shiiiiit and is an excellent parent. Think every foster home is a temporary abuse facility? You'll be surprised — these people are great and are gonna adopt you and love you like crazy, with the warmth and structure children apparently crave. Think you want to have a biological child? You'll be surprised — you, uh, will have to terminate that pregnancy, and grapple with the fragility of all human life and relationships, and you'll confront the built-in heartbreak that is inherent to parenting. Sorry, Lena.
The decision of the show's writers to tackle late term abortion unflinchingly, to deviate from the established BUT EVERYTHING WOUND UP OKAY line, is exactly why Monday's episode was great. This is how it is for real women facing life-threatening pregnancies who are lucky enough to have access to late-term abortion. It hurts. It's awful. It sucks. But it's real.