In 2004, a Canadian TV show made headlines for a controversial episode in which a pregnant teenage girl decides, much to her boyfriend’s distress, to get an abortion. Her mother drives her to the clinic.
Yes, it was Degrassi: The Next Generation — and the infamous episode, entitled Accidents Will Happen, was postponed for American viewers after a U.S. cable channel decided to pull it before it could air.
Experts note the mid-aughts episode was made during a period when onscreen depictions of abortion, and discussion of the procedure in film and TV, were growing more frequent and complex, to reflect public sentiment about the procedure.
“There’s really a lot of rich narratives that have been told, lots of interesting themes to trace, especially as they relate back to the politics of what was going on at the time,” said Stephanie Herold, a researcher at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) who studies how abortion is depicted in film and TV.
With abortion bans expected in roughly half of the U.S. states after the overturn of landmark ruling Roe v. Wade in June — and some Canadian advocates worried about the procedure’s destiny here — scholars and filmmakers say that abortion must evolve to accurately reflect real-life experiences.
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A ‘troubling departure’ from reality
While storylines have improved since early instances of onscreen abortion in the 1960s and 1970s, it hasn’t been a perfect evolution, according to Herold.
The project to which Herold contributes, Abortion Onscreen, began when UCSF sociologist Gretchen Sisson began looking into the history of abortion in Hollywood.
The two have since compiled a massive database of onscreen abortions, studying the race, age, socioeconomic circumstances and health outcomes of characters who receive the procedure in film and TV.
Herold and Sisson have found that there is a significant gulf between fictional and…