Meghan’s piece is really good, but she leaves out a whole other area: TV’s treatment of abortion. I always think it’s somewhat hilarious on shows like Friends and going back through countless others to Murphy Brown when the single pregnant woman anguishes about whether she’s going to keep her baby. I don’t mean to say that such pretend anguish doesn’t capture a certain reality, and a very sad one. But at the end of the day — or often at the end of sweeps week — the woman always says “it’s my choice, I’m keeping the baby.” Or, they’ll have a scene where the woman gets a sonogram and she realizes she loves the baby and again she’ll say “it’s my choice. I’m having this baby.”
And, the moment the women decide to have the baby, the fetus is automatically discussed as if it were a complete person worth talking to, reading to, singing to etc. The implication here, of course, is that if Rachel or whoever had simply chosen not to have the baby, that choice and that choice alone would have been enough of an abracadabra to metaphysically transform the fetus into nothing more than a lump of cells or the inconvenient consequence of a one-night-stand not worth reading to at all.
But — and here’s the funny part — they never choose the abortion. It’s so unbelievably predictable in show after show. Unless there’s a miscarriage, the woman always “chooses” to have the baby and that choice makes the fetus into a baby. The ontological status of the baby itself has nothing to do with it. Of course, one reason this is so is that abortions are a major bummer, particularly for a sitcom. And another is that pro-abortion groups are placated by these meager nods to choice, while prolife groups would scream bloody murder if a family hour show treated abortion like an opportunity for whacky hijinx. Still, I’m sure the producers and scriptwriters have struggled with this for a long time and if they could come up with a way to write about getting an abortion as an uplifting experience or even an uncontroversial decision they would have by now. But they can’t even on eat-your-spinach liberal shows like “Judging Amy” or “Boston Public.” And I think that alone says something.