If they thought our gay web series was going to hell before...
When I wrote the script for the sixth episode of "EastSiders" I knew that we might be inviting controversy. Many otherwise liberal friends and collaborators asked me if I was certain I wanted to take Constance Wu's character Kathy "in this direction." Forty years after Roe v. Wade, abortion is still, apparently, a controversial subject in this country, but I make no apologies for the fact that it isn't a controversial subject for me as a writer.
This past January, NBC's "Parenthood" aired an episode in which a teenage girl terminated her pregnancy, attracting praise from Salon.com and the Huffington Post and ire from many conservative groups. The Hollywood Reporter ran a piece on the backlash, highlighting a few quotes from Dan Gainor, of the Culture and Media Institute, who lamented the storyline as "Yet another very special episode where TV characters promote predictably liberal positions," and yet it's a proven fact that the majority of "abortion" storylines on television do not result in an abortion.
To be clear, there have been abortions represented on television in the past -- "Friday Night Lights" and "Six Feet Under" spring immediately to mind, but there are surprisingly few examples to be found between "Parenthood" and "Maude." Last year The Week posted a handy timeline mapping the evolution of how TV shows deal with abortion through the decades. TV Tropes has also compiled a fantastically thorough list of abortion storylines under their "Good Girls Avoid Abortion" trope. In the vast majority of storylines, the pregnant character decides not to go through with the procedure or she ends up having a convenient miscarriage, dodging the subject altogether. If the character does decide to go through with it, abortion is frequently treated as a deeply scarring ordeal with horrible social, emotional or physical consequences. While this is certainly true in some cases, it isn't the case for everyone, and I wanted to explore a different side of the issue.
Many of my close friends have had abortions and their experiences vary drastically. Almost none of their stories, however, resemble any of the tropes seen on TV. I'm certainly not saying it's fun, but it's not always the nightmarishly difficult decision it's made out to be. I remember one friend in particular, when asked how she was feeling immediately after her procedure, told me that she felt "relieved."
There's never any question for the character of Kathy that terminating the pregnancy is the right decision -- it's something that she feels is a necessity. Kathy's life would need to be completely restructured to accommodate having a child, and she doesn't feel like she's ready. Her relationship isn't ready. So she makes the choice to wait until she is. Sure, she probably should've told her boyfriend Ian about the pregnancy, but the fact that she didn't is almost further evidence that they aren't ready to raise a child together -- they aren't even able to talk about the idea. The subject of the episode isn't really abortion at all -- it's transparency and communication in relationships.
Growing up in Mississippi, the subject of abortion was almost verboten. The sole abortion clinic in the state is constantly under siege by both protestors and lawmakers, with a steady barrage of "regulations" and limitations threatening to undermine a woman's right to choose. It's a fact of life that many women in their mid-twenties have abortions and in a way I felt like avoiding the story the characters were presenting would make me complicit in stigmatizing those women.
I didn't set out to make a political statement about abortion, except for the unfortunate fact that representing abortion at all is, apparently, a political statement. Much in the same way that being a woman is a political statement. Being gay is a political statement. And refusing to adhere to the industry's code of silence is, hopefully, a political statement as well.