Instead, depictions of abortion are largely relegated to intense, high-stakes situations. There are scenes, like in Sex and the City, Blue Valentine, and Juno, in which a character intends to go through with an abortion but dramatically decides not to at the last moment (to the delight of pro-life activists, I can only assume). Then there are historical portrayals, like Vera Drake, Revolutionary Road, and the recent series Alias Grace, in which women with no access to legal abortion in the 1950s and the 1840s, respectively, must perform DIY surgeries with bloody, fatal consequences. And while there are a few examples of medical abortions in pop culture, they exist few and far between. In a 2015 episode of Jessica Jones, Jones smuggles an imprisoned character the abortion pill, and in a 2016 Jane the Virgin storyline, Xiomara has an abortion that viewers are told was a medical one, though it happens off screen.


The fact that movies often show surgical abortions, whether those found in gruesome period pieces or performed in a sterile doctor’s office, may be because they’re simply more dramatic. Even though Obvious Child’s Donna is only about three weeks along when she discovers her pregnancy, she opts for an abortion in the clinic, and we see all the steps of her antsy preparation for the moment. But the implications of an on-screen abortion canon that’s largely tear-stained, blood-stained, or filled with procedures opted out of at the last minute, feel particularly disturbing. Perhaps the idea of the safer medical abortion, sometimes done in the comfort of one’s home, the contents of which can be emptied into a maxi pad, makes people uncomfortable.

One of the best depictions of abortion—and specifically the abortion pill—that I’ve ever seen occurred on the highly underrated, now off-air Australian TV show Please Like Me. The 2015 episode, “Pancakes with Faces,” follows the character Claire through the process of having a medical abortion, with the show’s creator and lead character Josh Thomas at her side. It’s a funny episode without making Claire’s situation into a joke, but more importantly it depicts her abortion with a rarely seen casualness. It’s certainly not an easy decision for her; she wavers and admits to feeling like a “fuck-up.” The scenes of her, sitting in pain on the toilet, staring into it after her abortion is done, may not be the cinematic story many writers and directors are looking for, but its existence within the canon of abortions on screen is undeniably important. If we only depict abortion as this terrifying, often fatal medical procedure, diminishing the complexity of women’s experiences for the sake of riveting entertainment, then we simply aren’t depicting the full reality of what abortion looks like.