Abortion Reality on TV

posted June 17, 2014

I caught a glimpse of something amazing and unexpected a few weeks ago: a woman sharing her personal abortion story on prime time network television.

On a rather typical Tuesday evening, my husband and I sat on the couch to wind down from our hectic day. While flipping through our handful of non-cable TV channels, I witnessed Charita from the reality show Extreme Weight Loss Challenge on ABC exhibit vulnerability and courage as she shared not only the intimate experience of reclaiming her health, but also her abortion, something she had kept secret for over ten years.

The show captured two segments: first, her sharing pieces of her personal abortion story; second, a scene of her telling her practicing Christian parents for the first time, 10 years after the abortion. No politics discussed. Just themes of forgiveness, healing, and compassion.

The story wasn’t treated with kid gloves or canonized to represent a political stance. It was treated as what it is for many women: a life event. By allowing the story to be what it is, a piece of Charita’s journey, the show validated and normalized in prime time something that one in three women in America will experience. The abortion didn’t take center stage. Charita did, as a woman courageous to share the intimate experience of reclaiming her health in a public way.

At a time when Reality TV runs the gambit of lived experiences, abortion is still something that has remained untouched. Charita’s story is groundbreaking and I can’t help but imagine the impact of her story, so casually woven into the fabric of network television. I know it would have made a difference for me to see a personal abortion story shared in this way.

Twelve years ago, when I was making my decision to have an abortion, I felt I had a lack of information to help me navigate my decision and my healing. As I shared as a fellow on the Pro-Voice Sharing our Stories Tour, my previous experience with abortion in media was either through fictionalized period pieces, like Dirty Dancing, or made-for-TV movies where a woman’s “mistake” miraculously disappeared after a short commercial break. This singular narrative was laden with secrets, shame, and horrifying medical practices. While I knew these narratives were not representative of abortion in, what was then, the new millennium, I also had no exposure to the personal abortion experiences of my peers. When I attempted to speak to people before and after my abortion, I was repeatedly met with awkward diversions or silence. At the age of 19, I had never heard a woman share her abortion story or seen parents model compassion when receiving their daughter’s story for the first time.

Airing these scenes on prime time television, as ABC did a few weeks ago, signals to viewers that abortion is a conversation that happens with parents and partners at many kitchen tables across America, and that silence around our experiences is not the only option.

Charita shared her truth publicly, and now her story lives along the many stories and varied experiences of women who have shared their abortion stories in national media. One personal story at a time, these brave women are building a less isolated, more informed and compassionate narrative around abortion. They remind us that abortion experiences are normal and that you may hear someone’s story on a typical Tuesday evening.

Charita’s story is her own, and it is real. It is not representative, nor does it claim to be. Rather, it is nuanced and complicated, and doesn’t fit in any box but her own life. It’s reality, and it was on TV.

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