Roe v. Wade Anniversary: Friday Night Lights and Private Practice Tackle Abortion

by Melissa Silverstein on January 22, 2010

in Politics,TV

Today is the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.  While I don’t know if this is coincidental, two shows this week — Friday Night Lights and Private Practice — both had major storylines that tackled abortion worthy of a look.

The stories were about two very different young girls both about 15 and in high school:

One white, Friday Night Lights; one black, Private Practice

One rich, Private Practice; one poor, Friday Night Lights

The outcome (spoiler): one abortion, Friday Night Lights

I’ve said many, many times how big a fan I am of Friday Night Lights.  It is one of the best shows on television, hands down.  If you don’t watch the show because you think it is about football I say you are an idiot.  This is the second season that the show has aired on Direct TV first and will run on NBC in the spring.  I beg you to watch it.

The storyline revolved around Becky (Madison Burge) a beauty queen singer desperate to be loved realizing she is pregnant from the first time she slept with Luke (Michael B. Jordan Matt Lauria) one of the football stars.  She does not want to have the baby, especially because her mother had her when she was very young and she believes that she is her mother’s mistake.

Madison Burge as Becky in FNL

Becky needs advice desperately and Tim Riggins takes her to see Coach Taylor’s wife Tammy Taylor who also happens to be the principal of one of the town’s high schools.  (I can’t post the scene because you tube is blocking it.  The crazy thing that the rest of the show is up but this segment is being blocked.  Interesting.)

So here’s the transcription from one of their conversations.

Becky: I have an appointment for my abortion tomorrow. Why do I feel so weird?

Tammy: Because it’s a hard decision. Have you thought about what you want?

Becky: We don’t have any money. I’m in the 10th grade. It was my first time and I threw it away and I don’t want to throw my life away. It’s just really obvious that my mom wants me to have this abortion because I was her mistake and she has just struggled and hurt and everyday she wanted better. And I knew better and I was just thinking forget about what she wants, what do I want? Maybe I could take care of this baby and maybe I would be good at it and I could love it and I would be there for it.  And then I think about how awful it would be if I had a baby and I spent the rest of my life resenting him or her.

Do you think I am going to hell if I had an abortion?

Tammy: No honey, I don’t.

Becky: What would you tell your daughter?

Tammy: I would tell her to think about her life, think about what’s important to her and what she wants and I would tell her she’s in a real tough spot and then I would support whatever decision she made.

Becky. I can’t take care of a baby. I can’t.

That conversation was calm and serious, yet very respectful.  It looks like the advice that Principal Taylor gave Becky is going to get her into big trouble because in the scenes from next week she is called into her bosses office and told that the mother of Becky’s baby daddy wants to get her fired because she counseled her to get an abortion.  I am interested to see how they handle this.

Private Practice handled the issue very differently.  It was crazy town.  Maya played by Geffri Maya is the daughter of doctors, Naomi and Sam Bennett played by Audra McDonald and Taye Diggs. Naomi, a fertility specialist, is vehemently anti-choice. When she find out in this episode that her 15-year-old daughter is pregnant she demands that she get an abortion. I have had many issues with Naomi’s crazy behavior this season and in this episode she went way overboard and was not only not helpful, but very hurtful to her daughter. Thank goodness Aunt Addie, the clear headed Addison (Kate Walsh) gynecologist and surgeon was around to give Maya some good advice. The scene between Addison and Maya in the procedure room to me was well done and informative.   I need the experts to weight in on the facts.

Click forward to start the segment at 28:00

Part of the transcription of that section:

Maya: All my life my mom told me that she would never do this that from the second they are conceived the baby is a life, a gift from god and that abortion is wrong, that it is murder.

Addison: Yes, that is what your mother believes.

Maya: What about you, what do you believe?

Addison: I believe that until a fetus can survive on its own outside of the mother’s body that it is not a life.  I believe that life begins at birth.

Maya: So you think that my mom was wrong before and now she’s right because she wants me to do this?

Addison: I think that your mother and I think differently.  I can’t help you with this decision.  I can and will give you an abortion and I can offer you other options and see you through this pregnancy but I can’t help you decide…As your doctor I know this is hard and this is an unimaginable grown up decision but you did a grown up thing and now you are in a grown up redicament and it doesn’t matter what I believe or what your mother believes, it matters what you believe.

Maya: But my mom…

Addison: Until the 24th week of pregnancy what a woman does with her own body is her own business.  It’s the law.  And a lot of fine women fought a long time to give you the right to do what you think is best.  It’s your body.  Your choice.

Your body.  Your choice.  On TV!  It’s been a long time coming.  Additionally I noticed that the episodes of  both show were written and directed by women.  FNL was written by Bridget Carpenter and directed by Amy Cannon Mann.  PP was written by Patti Carr & Lara Olsen and directed by Bethany Rooney.

Not only am I impressed that two shows covered the topic, but the women (girls) were not vilified and abortion was given as a viable option.  Usually when we talk about abortion in pop culture we need to see some protesters just to make sure we know that it is a controversial issue.  This time all the controversy that was needed was two young women in pain about the big decision they had to make.


{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

AVB January 22, 2010 at 12:58 PM

Though it was crazy town, it was still finely written. A friend of mine’s mother acted the same way when her high school-aged daughter told her she was pregnant. The only difference was that the daughter did want to have an abortion, she just didn’t think her mother would have agreed. I think PP captured thae gut reaction that many people don’t realize they would have when faced with that specific situation.

sally January 22, 2010 at 2:50 PM

I think there has been theme in too many movies and TV shows that “Baby makes everything better.” And pregnant women and babies are under magical protection if they just love and trust enough. You never see anything go wrong. There is never a case of a medically necessary abortion even, nevermind choice. When I see the nutjobs discussing the recent murder of an abortion doctor at his church in Kansas they are SURE there are no medical needs for a late term abortion, so murdering that doctor was justified. They probably have never seen it on their soaps and shows, so it never happens.

You rarely see even adoption go well – giving up a kid is bad, bad thing – see the new pilot on the CW where it’s “Juno meets Gilmore Girls” where the mother thought it was a loving thing to give up her baby for adoption, yet the baby had a crappy life and is now – back. And is so darned cute with quirky hats. Hi Jinks ensue! Everyone learns to love!

I am very pro-choice and I think that ultimately, it’s the most pro-life position. Every child should be a wanted child and every woman who is pregnant ought to have a wanted pregnancy. Anything else trifles with the value of a child or a woman’s life.

babka January 22, 2010 at 3:12 PM

no accident that the January 25th cover of In Touch features Sarah & Bristol Palin and their babies – caption “We’re Glad We Chose Life”.

trial of the killer of the abortion doctor any minute.

Suzanne January 22, 2010 at 4:09 PM

I’m glad to see TV taking on this topic. As difficult as it is to have your 13 or 15 year old pregnant parents need to understand that it is the pregnant womens decision to continue or not continue a pregnancy not her parents (or her boyfriends, etc.). Discussing all options so she can make an informed decision is paramount along with having supportive people around regardless of which decision the woman choses. I think this was covered well in both shows. Considering half the pregnancies in the US are unplanned and 1 in 3 women have had an abortion by the age of 40 shows that this is a common problem not an uncommon one. It’s about time we stop stigmatizing women for even considering this option. Many anti-choice people change their minds regarding this option once they have been faced with an unwanted or unhealthy pregnancy. Both shows portrayed how difficult it is and how it is not a decision women take lightly.

Kaitlin January 22, 2010 at 4:32 PM

Very interesting article, but wanted to mention that the actor who plays Luke is actually Matt Lauria. Michael B. Jordan plays Vince on Friday Night Lights. Just a clarification. Please feel free to check out our site, and podcast (we recently interviewed the actors who play Becky, Vince and Buddy..Madison Burge, Michael B. Jordan and Brad Leland)-

Melissa Silverstein January 22, 2010 at 5:16 PM

Thanks for the clarification. I corrected the error. Much appreciated.

Margot Magowan January 22, 2010 at 11:47 PM

Wow, this is incredible. You never see abortions on TV. It’s always a miscarriage. Did anyone see “The Pregnancy Pact”? It was on Lifetime or something based on a true story when all those hiugh school girls supposedly decided to get pregnant? I only saw the ad in People but it was so creepy, all these teens, arm crossed, tummies sticking out. Totally curious how it was all depicted.

JCK January 23, 2010 at 1:10 AM

I’m really glad that TV is tackling the issue/choice of abortion again. Remember “Maude?”

Katie January 23, 2010 at 11:50 AM

This actually took guts by both shows. And not lame lifetime movieish with each girl deciding to have their baby and living happily ever after.They claim that the country now has a majority of the population (over 50 percent) that are anti abortion. I find that interesting yet not completely accurate.

Oddly I’ve never been a supporter of Roe versus Wade for one and only one reason. The government has no business legislating what should be a decision a women makes about her own being and body. I venture to guess if the tables were turned, there would be overwhelming support for a MAN to make this decision for himself.

By the way not to get off topic but Melissa I think this warrants a mention. Starting last Monday, Diane Sawyer officially took over as the anchor of the ABC Network news. Do people now realize that 2 out of the 3 major network nightly newscasts are now anchored by women? Just a couple of years ago who would have thought. Why is this important? This is not some flimsy female part on what is touted as a female centric liberating TV program(like Desperate Housewives – ugh the worst group of kniving needy women) but women leading now television in a forum that’s actually taken seriously. And these women by the way are both over 50. What a far cry from the days of Deborah Norville and Jessica Savage.

sally January 23, 2010 at 1:56 PM

Roe Vs Wade is not based on female rights, it’s based on general privacy rights for both men and women, which makes it questioned by some. So, the basis is, a woman has a right in private to decide whether her body will be pregnant or not. It’s that her body is in privacy and what she will do with it. In the same way that no one can make you be an organ donor or make a man donate blood or to tell a man he can’t get a tattoo. Your body and your decision is private, not the government’s domain. It’s not based a right to abortion, but a right to domain over your body.

Katie January 23, 2010 at 3:13 PM

Sally I understand that which is why there should never have been a need to legislate any of it. But that’s spoken from a liberatarian’s point of view

Criss January 25, 2010 at 9:37 PM

Katie, I see what you are trying to say — you do not think the government should have had to step in in the first place to ensure a woman’s right to control her own body — but when you phrase it as “I’ve never been a supporter of Roe V. Wade” what you are saying is that you do not support the decision that a woman has the right to decide what happens to her own body.

I never watched Friday Night Lights (I live in Texas and up until last year taught in public high schools, I get enough Texas high school football in real life), but after this I think I’ll have to start watching it. I wish a clip of the show had been available, but the transcribed dialogue sounded real, truthful, and accurate. I am also deeply impressed that the girl chose to have an abortion — did she actually go through with it in that episode? Or is the baby daddy’s mom going to stop her at the clinic next episode?

Private Practice, on the other hand… is this the same episode that made fun of the woman who wanted to have a natural, drug-free childbirth? (Seems like it from the scene after the clip, though I didn’t bother watching more). The dialogue between Maya and the doctor was pulled straight out of pamphlets for each side. It was awkward, wooden, poorly acted, and completely unrealistic.

And how come the girl is on the operating table before anyone takes the time to ask her what SHE wants to do???

katie January 27, 2010 at 9:22 AM

No I fully support a women’s right to choose. It’s the need to have to legislate something that should never have needed to be legislated is complete BS. I’d beg to ask the question. If men were those giving birth to children, I’d ask if there would even have been a necessity for Roe Versus Wade. You answer the question.

Carla Fran January 31, 2010 at 6:07 PM

The Private Practice emphasis doesn’t surprise me. Amy Brenneman is one of the few actresses I can think of that is unabashedly feminist, and I hope she is no small voice on the show. Meanwhile, on Bones just a few weeks ago, the character Angela thinks she is pregnant, and when she suggests she might not keep the baby, she is told by her ex “of course you will keep it, you always wanted lots of children” and then “when you realize you’re going to keep it, I’m here to help.” I think they thought they were being daring by having a character suggest her choice, but by having a man know her decision better than herself, and for this to be romantic…ugh.

Adrienne February 2, 2010 at 12:03 AM

Katie, you do realize that Roe v. Wade was not legislation but instead a Supreme Court decision. It was the decision that actually overturned the state’s legislation that made abortion illegal. It was and is necessary in order to keep the states who would like to again prohibit abortion from doing so. As much as I wish it were a thought in some legislator’s mind, I don’t believe anyone (legislator) is thinking of proposing legislation that would ensure a woman the right to choose.

When you say you are against Roe v. Wade, you are saying you disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision.

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