Like many of my colleagues in the pro-choice feminist blogosphere, I’m pleasantly shocked at how well MTV handled the topic of abortion during their special that aired last night, called No Easy Decision. (Click here to watch the full show and here to read the live blog I did with feminist superstars Jessica Valenti, Steph Herold, Lynn Harris, and Jamia Wilson during it. Also, Lynn’s post on the show and Jessica’s piece on the show.)
Yup, there were a lot of really great things that happened during the show, including:
– Dr. Drew provided medically accurate information about both abortion and birth control with minimal shaming!
– The powers that be refrained from editing the two main characters of the special, Markai and James, into race and gender stereotypes and instead offered a (sadly and unfairly) rare portrayal of a strong, supportive African American family!
– Markai shared with the audience her call to the clinic counselor to get more information about abortion, thereby sharing with MTV’s audience the different types of abortion and the non-judgmental compassion characteristic of most real providers (read: as opposed to fake clinics, called crisis pregnancy centers)
– Markai and two other women who joined her on a panel to discuss their abortion experiences, Katie and Natalia, honestly discussed the range of emotions they experienced after their procedures, from sadness to relief to pride. Katie described poignantly described her choice to end her pregnancy, “a parenting decision.”
– MTV allowed the young women to illuminate different barriers to abortion for young women. Natalia pursued and was granted a judicial bypass to a parental notification law, a process she described as “begging for permission to make your own decision.” She also explains the economic barriers, relating how she sold her prom ticket to help raise the $750 she needed for the abortion. In an extended online version, she also discussed the pain of being forced – by yet another law – to view an ultrasound before the procedure.
As I write this list, I realize that I’m sad and more than a bit angry that the portrayal of these very basic things – accurate information about reproductive health matters, nuanced portrayal of young people, frank discussion of the basics and the barriers to accessing one of the safest and most common medical procedures, as well as the wide range of experiences of the one in four women who do access it – gets us SO EXCITED. This should be the norm in real life and on television, not a hush hush exception that came on late at night, with no advertisement beforehand, and no plans to be re-aired or followed up or extended into a longer, multi-episode conversation.
But it’s not in either sphere and while we keep working to make it so, we’ve got to start somewhere. No Easy Decision was a first step toward reducing the stigma around abortion and normalizing via television respecting and trusting young women’s choices. Huge props go to whomever at MTV greenlighted the project – here’s hoping this success encourages the network to move in a similar vein, perhaps by for the first time allowing characters on their show 16 and Pregnant to at least talk about abortion as an option and, hey, even show some of them following through with it.
Also exceptional was the online space created by Exhale, a multi-lingual after abortion counseling talkline, called 16 and Loved. The site’s sole purpose is to support Markai, Katie, and Natalia and other young women who’ve chosen abortion. Exhale got ahead of the inevitable anti-choice shenanigans and focused most of the conversation online, especially on Twitter during the special, toward loving and accepting the young women rather than arguing the politics of abortion rights.
Of course, the real sheroes of No Easy Decision are Markai, Katie and Natalia. Because of their courage, young women who saw or see the show who’ve had abortions know that they’re not alone and they don’t have to be ashamed. As feminists know, that realization – that you’re not alone, you’re not crazy or bad for doing what you’ve done or feeling what you’re feeling and you’re even a bit pissed that you were ever made to feel you were – is quite revolutionary. Thank you, sisters, for speaking your truth so others may know and embrace theirs.