Abortion on the Screen: From Dirty Dancing to Obvious Child

Abortion & Media BlogDirty Dancing is one of my favorite movies of all time. No, seriously. It’s got everything: a great soundtrack, Patrick Swayze, dancing, and, of course, a great catchphrase (“Nobody puts Baby in a corner!”). There’s no doubt that it’s brilliant, but one thing that flew over my head when I was younger was the entire abortion subplot. It’s actually a pretty big deal. Patrick Swayze’s dance partner, Penny, is pregnant and wants an abortion. She needs someone to stand in for her as she seeks care, so she can keep her job. Enter Jennifer Grey’s character, Baby, and one of the best montages of the 80s. Oh, and that whole romance thing. Of course, for Penny, it doesn’t work out so great. She ends up having an unsafe, illegal abortion.

This post is not just for you to reminisce about one of the greatest films ever (and if you haven’t seen it, go now. I’ll wait). It’s for you to take a moment and think about the media and abortion. Abortion has become more prevalent in the media in more recent years, and there’s been a lot of talk lately about how abortion is portrayed in media, but it tends to downplay the power that media has.

Media plays a huge role in our lives. We consume media all the time. I mean, think about it. If you’re not on the computer, you’re watching TV or reading a book. Maybe you get the paper every morning. Or, if you’re anything like me, you click open your favorite blog and scan through the headlines. In fact, on average, Americans watch 5 hours of TV a day (which, let’s face it, is probably increased when you think about how much Netflix we watch on a given day). Americans also see about 30 movies a year. We ingest a lot of media. When you think about how many shows we watch or how many movies we go see, it becomes obvious the role that media plays in our lives. It’s a big one! The ramifications of that are that the media influences our opinions and viewpoints.

It’s not uncommon for abortion to be portrayed in a negative light in a lot of movies and TV shows. In reality, abortion is a very safe, common, and routine medical procedure, and there’s only a .05% risk of any kind of complication. Sure, Dirty Dancing takes place in 1960s, when abortions were illegal and dangerous, but there are some more modern examples. In the movie Juno, the character briefly considers an abortion but ends up pursuing adoption. Television shows often back away from the A-Word, as well. Characters, like Miranda on Sex and The City or Jessa on Girls, both opt-out of abortion. The abortion stigma abounds, and it doesn’t help anybody.

However, shows like Friday Night Lights portray people talking about abortion as an option for women and something that is more matter-of-fact. Movies like Obvious Child, starring Jenny Slate, are also changing the conversation about abortion. Donna Stern is a totally relatable character, and her decision to have an abortion was the right one for her. These portrayals are turning the tide. They allow the stories around the decision to have an abortion to be real and honest. They portray abortion like it’s a part of life because, for 1 in 3 women in the U.S., it is.

And that’s where carafem comes in. carafem is not afraid to speak about abortion unapologetically, there’s no shame in it. Society is slowly changing and media can play a part in this progress. Honest portrayals of women and families are needed to help normalize this everyday experience. If we can bring more Donna Sterns into the mainstream, we can begin to change the conversation. We’ve come along way since Dirty Dancing, but there’s still a ways to go.

If you’d like to keep up with all the work carafem is doing to help combat stigma, click here and sign up for the newsletter.