Abortion Is More Dangerous to Women in Movies and TV Than in Real Life

Illustration for article titled Abortion Is More Dangerous to Women in Movies and TV Than in Real Life

It would be nice if the entertainment business made an effort to represent abortion in a realistic, rational matter. Unfortunately, new research shows movies and television dramatically overestimate the dangers of the procedure. Pop culture spreading misinformation about reproductive health? Imagine!


Bitch reports that researchers at ANSIRH, a reproductive advocacy group, recently conducted a "census" of abortion's pop culture portrayal from 1916 to the present day. They published the results in the journal Contraception, as well as producing an infographic. And actually, abortion and the decision whether to have one are depicted more commonly than you might assume, with 385 storylines in movies and TV (most of them after Roe v. Wade) and 87 occurring on primetime TV.

But it turns out that fictional characters are FAR more likely to die as the result of an abortion than a real person. 9 percent of women die onscreen; in reality, the rate is less than 1 percent. Even more disturbing: the rate of abortion plotlines (whether or not the woman actually gets one!) that end in death is actual 14 percent total, with many of the additional characters murdered.

Adoption is also portrayed as a disproportionately common resolution to an unplanned pregnancy: In the last ten years, 9 percent of characters dealt with the situation by putting the child up for adoption, versus 1 percent in reality.

You can chalk a lot of this up to pure plot considerations, of course. A DANGEROUS ABORTION is more dramatically interesting than a safe abortion in a respectful, comfortable environment. And presumably the stats include movies that portray the bad old days of dangerous, illegal abortions.

But the misinformation does matter, because in many communities it's still taboo to discuss abortion, and let's face it—when you've missed a period and panicking, you're not in the best position to sit down and dispassionately review the stats before making a decision. If pop culture is pumping out B.S., it has an effect. Let's just hope the trend is at least heading in the right direction.

(h/t Feministing)

Infographic via ANSIRH



I see what Bitch is trying to do here, and I agree we need less DOOM DOOM DOOM around stories about reproduction in general. But I also wonder how dramatic it is if an unwanted pregnancy ends in abortion and then the woman goes back to her daily life. And most fiction is about exceptional, dramatic events, not about normal and routine ones. (E.g., if a character goes to the doctor, s/he is probably dramatically sick, even though normal people go to the doctor and don't have anything wrong with them all the time.)

Given how freighted discussion of abortion can be, I can see why creators who want a little pregnancy drama without a baby at the end opt for a convenient miscarriage over abortion.