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The WB v. Your Uterus: Get an Abortion, Die a Fiery Death
by Jennifer L. Pozner
Published in Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, Issue 29, Summer 2005
Women, especially young women, just don’t terminate pregnancies on network TV. Sure, there was that one hand-wringing, parental-discretion-advised episode of Everwood in 2003, and a passing bit of backstory on The O.C. But these exceptions aside, unplanned small-screen pregnancies inevitably end in miscarriage, adoption, or, most often, a baby.
A recent episode of Jack & Bobby pierced this climate of silence by exploring the delicate issue of teens and abortion with surprising candor. Bible-group devotee Missy, the ex-girlfriend of brooding series heartthrob Jack, finds herself pregnant by a jerk jock and, desperate to save face with her conservative minister father, lies, telling Jack it’s his baby. When Jack’s mother, feminist professor Grace, asks the girl what she plans to do, Missy answers that while other girls might have an abortion, "for me, it’s just too special."
Nevertheless, after Missy comes clean about the fetus’s real father and her preacher papa declares her a whore and throws her out, she turns to Grace, asking her for a ride to Illinois, where she can get an abortion without parental consent.
In a situation with no easy answers, Grace trusts Missy to decide what’s best and – after offering to take the girl in if she wanted to have the baby – she agrees to help her. (In real life, that act of compassion could soon land a woman like Grace in prison for up to a year: A week after the episode aired, the House passed a bill that, if approved by the Senate, would make it a federal crime to transport a minor across state lines for an abortion to avoid parental notification.)
In contrast to almost every pregnant TV character since Maude, Missy didn’t reconsider at the last minute—uncomfortable as she was with her decision, she went through with the abortion, with Grace by her side for support. Politically astute and emotionally wrenching, Jack & Bobby treated Missy with respect as she grappled with her predicament, and let her express her freedom of choice without judgment.
And then, of course, they killed her.
Yes, on the very next episode, the girl who had the audacity to choose abortion lay dead in her prom dress, the sole fatality of a drunk-driving sweeps-week morality play. By knocking off the formerly knocked-up cheerleader, producers conveniently avoided any messy follow-up questions. (How would Missy reconcile her abortion with her religious faith? How would her parents cope with the fact that their lack of support drove their daughter to terminate her pregnancy? And, perhaps scariest, what if there wasn’t any devastating emotional fallout after all?)
The show could have been the first American series in decades in which a main character gets pregnant, has an abortion, and is able to carry on with her life—as millions of American women do. Instead, the writers hobbled their careful, complicated and moving portrayal of teen abortion by capping it off with a formulaic, punish-the-sinner chaser.