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PORTSIDE  August 2010, Week 4

PORTSIDE August 2010, Week 4

Subject:

On 'Friday Night Lights', Abortion Stigma Goes Primetime

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Date:

Fri, 27 Aug 2010 20:41:44 -0400

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On 'Friday Night Lights', Abortion Stigma Goes
Primetime

Nancy Northup
The Nation
August 26, 2010
http://www.thenation.com/article/154177/friday-night-lights-abortion-stigma-goes-primetime

It's evident just how much of a taboo abortion has
become when a television show gets lauded as bold for
having a character go through with the procedure.
Friday Night Lights, NBC's gripping portrayal of life
in small-town Texas, is being deservedly praised for
the emotional realism with which it recently depicted a
teenager's decision to have an abortion-a decision
rarely made on television or film nowadays, even though
abortion is a common and legal medical procedure that
one-third of American women decide is the right choice
for them.

In another remarkable move, the show tackled the very
forces that have so effectively stifled discussion of
abortion as a viable option for women, both on TV and
real life: the antichoice assault on accurate
information about reproductive healthcare.

The story revolves around high school sophomore Becky
Sproles, who turns to the principal of a local high
school, Tami Taylor, for help when she finds out she is
pregnant. Tami tells Becky about adoption agencies and
support services for pregnant teens, and urges her to
talk to her mother. Only when Becky asks about abortion
does Tami tell her she can "direct her to the
literature on that." From the careful way that Tami
chooses her words you can tell she knows she's walking
into a minefield. And sure enough, she soon becomes the
target of a school board probe and a public campaign to
get her fired.

The campaign succeeds: the season's final episodes, the
last of which aired earlier this month, saw the school
board ask Tami to apologize for doing what, in her
words, she was supposed to do "as a principal and a
human being"-listen to a scared young woman and give
her information about all her options. It's a loss for
Tami, who, refusing to apologize, is ultimately
reassigned to a new school and leaves the principal's
job that she loves, and a loss for her students at
Dillon High, who are left without one of their most
dedicated and compassionate champions.

What the antichoice characters on the show want is
exactly what their real-life counterparts want: to deny
women any information that could help them obtain an
abortion and to prevent them from getting one. Since
antichoice forces are unable to overturn Roe v. Wade,
they've resorted to pushing laws that severely limit
women's access to abortion, especially on the state
level. The restrictions are either intended to dissuade
women from getting an abortion-through false
information, for instance,-or they're designed to make
it so expensive or cumbersome for clinics to provide
services that the facilities shut down. This year
alone, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed
lawsuits to block some of the most egregious assaults
yet on a woman's right to accurate reproductive
healthcare information.

Oklahoma passed two laws this spring that may at first
seem contradictory, but make clear their antichoice
backers' intent to manipulate a woman's decision-making
process when she is considering terminating a
pregnancy: One requires a woman to have an ultrasound
before an abortion and listen to a doctor describe the
image in detail, even if the ultrasound is medically
unnecessary and even if the woman refuses. The other
prohibits a woman from suing doctors who don't tell her
or even lie to her about a fetal abnormality-an
egregious license for doctors to substitute their
judgment for their patient's about whether to continue
a pregnancy. Remarkably,the Oklahoma legislature is, on
the one hand, requiring doctors to withhold information
that a woman may very well want; while on the other,
demanding doctors force-feed unnecessary information to
a woman when she has declined to hear it. In both
cases, though, the legislature is controlling the
medical information that women receive, effectively
interfering with their decisions about their
pregnancies. For now at least, the ultrasound measure
is not being enforced while our lawsuit proceeds.

Baltimore decided to end the deceptive practices of
antichoice "crisis pregnancy centers," which lure
pregnant women seeking abortion to their offices, and
then subject them to biased counseling intending to
persuade them otherwise and provide no information or
misinformation about abortion. Still, Baltimore's
ordinance merely requires such centers to post signs
saying that they do not provide abortion or
contraceptive services. But the Catholic Church sued
the city in an attempt to halt this nod to truth in
advertising, as if there is a right to mislead and
withhold information when it comes to abortion. The
church's suit is still pending.

Information overload is the preferred tactic in
Nebraska. A new law there requires a healthcare
professional to evaluate a women's risk for
postabortion complications based on an almost limitless
range of information published in peer-reviewed
journals, even if the studies are ambiguous or
contested. In effect, the law forces doctors to provide
women with irrelevant, unreliable and misleading
information on trumped-up "risks"-including the long-
debunked "connection" between abortion and breast
cancer-or face disciplinary sanctions. Never mind that
the doctor already has an ethical obligation to provide
patients with the risks and benefits of abortion based
on their individual situation. (A federal judge
recently struck this law down as unconstitutional,
ruling that the law "would be impossible or nearly
impossible" to comply with and ultimately, would place
doctors in "immediate jeopardy" of civil litigation and
therefore, women in "immediate jeopardy" of losing
access to doctors.)

It goes without saying that antichoice politicians have
a right to express their views. But when they pass laws
that manipulate information that women receive from
healthcare professionals about their pregnancies and
options for abortion, they cross the line and violate a
woman's dignity and fundamental right to make her own
decisions about her body and her life.

We would not tolerate being deprived of critical
information in other important areas of our lives. Yet
when it comes to whether to continue a pregnancy -a
decision that profoundly affects every aspect of a
woman's being-ignorance and deception have become
acceptable, or even politically safer, than accurate
and supportive information and understanding, as Tami
learned too well.

It's unsurprising: when even information about abortion
becomes the object of legislative control and
antichoice reprisals, fear and silence inevitably
prevail. It is a chilling effect we can see in both our
popular culture and our political debates where
antichoice rhetoric dominates and prochoice lawmakers
must tiptoe around the issue or risk heated attacks on
their character.

Against this backdrop, Friday Night Lights's
willingness to depict Becky's abortion as the right
choice for her is truly an exhilarating breath of fresh
air. But it is not enough. Each and every one of us
needs to break the silence, stand up for all the Beckys
and Tamis of the world, and demand that our laws as
well as our TV shows reflect and respect the reality of
women's lives.

_____________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest
to people on the left that will help them to
interpret the world and to change it.

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