To quote Gloria Feldt, “Media portrayals, real or fictional, don’t merely inform us — they form us.” In this series, I will be examining five films – classic, mainstream, independent, foreign, and pre-Roe – and five television shows – daytime soap, pre-Roe, drama, critically lauded, and teen-oriented – that address unexpected pregnancy, to examine how past portrayals can influence and reflect society’s view of abortion.
My parents didn’t let my sister and I watch a lot of television when we were kids, which might explain my pop-culture obsession as an adult. One of the few shows that we were allowed to see, however, was a Canadian teen drama called Degrassi Junior High. We lived close enough to the U.S.-Canadian border that the CBC was one of the few stations our TV antenna could pick up, and every Monday evening the entire family would settle in for a half-hour of the finest teen angst north of the border. Degrassi Junior High eventually morphed into Degrassi High, which spawned the current incarnation, Degrassi: The Next Generation, currently airing on TeenNick (formerly known as The N).
Degrassi distinguished itself by constantly exploring dramatic issues in a pretty realistic manner, and the handling of abortion is no exception. There have been two significant storylines involving abortion, one on Degrassi High in 1989 and the other on Next Generation in 2004. Both storylines generated controversy; when the 1989 episode was aired in the U.S., scenes of protestors were edited out and the character’s ultimate decision was left unclear. In 2005, TeenNick refused to air either the two-part abortion episode or the episode immediately following them. The previous year, the network had declined to air Next Generation’s abortion episodes, finally broadcasting them in 2006.