Trigger warning: descriptions of violence against women, graphic content.
Every TV season there’s a show that looks to have so much potential that the buzz starts to gather around it before the show even airs. This season, that show is FX ‘s new late night horror-drama, “American Horror Story.” The pilot had promise, with scream-inducing, jump-out-of-your-seats scary moments. And I have to admit, I was hooked. Just a few days later, I watched the first episode and was indeed horrified, but not for the reasons you might think.
This isn’t a show about scary monsters, although there are monsters that jump out from dark corners. This isn’t a show about murdered couples in a scary, vintage home, although there’s plenty of murder and gore. It’s an abortion horror story, a drama on a popular network aimed at young adult viewers that blames the years and years of horror occurring in a scary house on a 1920’s drug-addicted doctor who performed late term, unsafe abortions in his basement.
Here’s how this abomination of a television show goes: man, wife, and daughter move from the East coast to a haunted California house to flee their troubled marriage. The wife suffered a still birth and afterward, her husband cheated on her with his college student. Typical, I know. It gets better, though: the wife sleeps with a masked ghost thinking its her husband – see, women are so slutty! get it!- and in episode two, reveals that she is expecting. Meanwhile, the husband is suffering from hallucinations and an alluring house maid -damn the sexy women always trying to seduce well-meaning men!- and then in a random fit, he goes back to the East coast to deal with a “problem.”
What’s the problem? His mistress is pregnant and she needs support as she has chosen to have an abortion. I guess young women that choose to abort can’t make the choice without a man there by their side, holding their hand through the process. Of course, the support of a partner is cool, but the show presents the young mistress as a needy, mentally unhinged basket case that couldn’t go through with the abortion, but I ‘ll get to that part later. While the young mistress wails and begs the man to rekindle their romance, he stoically resists her advances (pesky seductress!) and takes her to the abortion clinic. The clinic is a dark, dingy, very unsanitary looking place; a nurse wheels around a decrepit female patient with blood all over her and the man tries to support his sobbing woman mistress.
Back in LA, wife and daughter are assaulted by some visitors that want to reenact a murder that purportedly happened in that house thirty or so years ago. Although the wife and daughter survive, they are so traumatized that wife decides to sell the house. And that brings us to tonight’s episode, the most heinously anti-choice propaganda I have ever seen. Period. When I say that, I include the anti-abortion signs protestors hold up at anti-choice rallies and in front of abortion clinics.
Last night, the true horror of the house is revealed; the reason for the haunting becomes apparent. Back in the 1920’s, an East coast socialite became enraged when her doctor husband didn’t bring home enough money, so the devious-she-devil (we’ve seen this before, evil woman , it’s all her fault!) informs the doctor husband that she’s found a woman in a “bad situation,” that has sixty dollars and is willing to pay for the problem to be “taken care of.” Because apparently, abortion doctors are greedy, evil monsters that prey on young girls in desperate situations.
Cut to the next scene where the door bell rings and a young, blond, almost angelic looking woman enters. She’s crying, softly, as the she-devil-wife leads her into the bathroom where she helps her dress in a white gown. There, the wife forces the young girl to drink a substance that makes the girl act completely drugged and incoherent, but not before the wife collects the girl’s money. Apparently, young women don’t make the choice to abort willingly, they’re totally drugged and forced to go through with the procedure. The wife then leads the girl into the basement where the doctor performs the abortion. An announcer cuts in saying, “the souls of 12 babies are said to haunt the house to this day.” Because that’s how many women were “lured” into that evil doctor’s basement. Suddenly, the opening credits clips make sense because they’re images of dead fetus parts kept in jars in the dingy basement. Message: not only are doctors that perform abortions evil, money-grubbing, exploitative human beings, they’re totally fucking crazy.
And folks, this isn’t all, remember when the man’s mistress had an abortion in an earlier episode? Oh, she didn’t, instead she’s going to keep the “baby” and make him pay for it. Yep, that’s right, in one swoop of the screen writer’s pen, the woman goes from lunatic abortion-needing mistress, to vindictive mistress that wants to ruin a man’s life. As the show goes on, the young woman becomes more and more incoherent, until finally, a creepy neighbor attacks the mistress with a shovel and kills her. The husband then feels that his problem is solved and buries the girl in the backyard and builds a gazebo on top of the spot where her body is buried. It’s like the poor woman and her fetus were really just a “problem” that needed disposing of.
To top it all off, the last scene of tonight’s episode is of the man and his wife happily drinking iced tea in the gazebo. Sick.
How messed up is this? Violence against women, check. Reification of she-devil, seductress stereotypes, check. Abortion shaming, huge. fucking. check. There’s a way to may a show scary and it doesn’t have to include “babies haunting a mansion for almost 100 years.” Because if that isn’t straight out of the radical anti-choice playbook, I don’t know what is. And I’m still astounded the plot of this show was green lighted. I get that this is cable, that the rules aren’t as stringent, that FX is probably trying to “push the boundaries,” but the only boundary FX is pushing is the one between really bad and really disturbing.