Last night, MTV Canada aired a half-hour special called “Impact: Abortion Stories.” So I watched it.
I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, although I was certainly wary of a network that expends entire series (and countless hours of specials) on teen motherhood and one half-hour on abortion (and nothing at all on adoption, as far as I can tell). Certainly the show was aimed at teens, and so I was bracing myself for a certain amount of drama and sensationalism.
The format of the show was in seven segments of a young person talking into the camera about their experience with abortion (or pregnancy or activism), interspersed with footage of protests (both pro-choice and anti-abortion) and myths and facts about abortion.
Let’s start with the myths, because that was the best feature of the show, and the deciding factor in my decision that this was, indeed, a pro-choice special. They presented five myths and quickly debunked them using simple, clear language. If the show had just been this, it would have been a great teaching tool for teens – good for sex ed classes, if we were ever that progressive. The myths they chose to include were: abortion causes breast cancer; only young women/teenagers have abortions; post-abortion syndrome exists; abortion affects future fertility; and outlawing abortion will reduce the number of abortions.
The rest of the show involved seven young people talking about their experiences, over a horrendous, soap opera-style backing track. Each of them probably got about two minutes of screen time, so you would think they would want to maximize the number of women actually talking about abortion. But of the seven people involved, only four had actually had abortions – one had decided to parent (even though, as mentioned previously, there are numerous shows on this network alone about teen parenting), one was an anti-choice activist (WTF?) and one was a man whose girlfriend had an abortion.
The inclusion of the man was the most troubling for me. I do realize that men can experience a lot of pain around abortion, and certainly this man was hurting. But for a half hour special, you need to pick and choose. Let’s talk about men and abortion, sure; but let’s make sure women’s voices are heard first. And I would have loved to have heard from this man’s ex-girlfriend, the one who had the abortion. According to him, she didn’t want him to go with her to the appointment. There seemed to be a lot more going on there than he was telling. And then when his next girlfriend became pregnant, HE decided that HE couldn’t bear to go through that again, so he told her “we are having this child no matter what.” So they did. Presenting this story in the same sympathetic light as the five young women’s stories was an idiotic and alienating move on MTV’s part. I wanted to throw something at the television. What is the matter with this guy?? And why are we privileging his story over either of the young women he was involved with (because yes, the woman who had a child with him also broke up with him)?
The four women who had abortions were all fascinating. They seemed bright and articulate, and talked about the complicated emotions surrounding their decision. One described the experience of being in the waiting room with fifteen other women all looking down at their feet, not talking. She was the only one crying, and that was when she wondered if her decision was the right one. Another young woman talked about how the doctor made her call her mother and tell her what she was doing. All four spoke of being judged and alienated by friends, family and classmates.
The young woman who had chosen parenting was, in my opinion, a totally unnecessary inclusion. She had some cloying things to say about babies, and some maudlin anti-choice crap about “another heart that will never beat,” etc ad nauseam. But her closing statements about supporting and respecting women no matter what their decision rang true. “Maybe people should just be more loving and caring, and try to talk to those people without judgment” she says over the ending credits.
I don’t even understand why they included the anti-choice activist at all. She was clearly an idiot, for starters. When describing why she became an anti-abortion activist, she said she saw one of those mangled fetus pictures when she was thirteen and it really affected her. Well lady, you’re not thirteen any more, so maybe it’s time to re-evaluate.
In the end I have to give the special a thumbs down, mostly for the ambiguity of it. I think it was supposed to be pro-choice but it was muddled, as though MTV was trying to present a morally neutral stance but figured out half-way through production that it wasn’t possible. I would have liked to have seen some women of color represented, and maybe if the three people who hadn’t actually had abortions had been cut, we could have heard more of substance from the women who had. I think the message about cutting through stigma by talking about abortion is a good one, and needs to be more clearly emphasized. We can only hope that some young women have seen this special and feel a little bit less alone with their decisions.