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Abortion in America
Who Gets Abortions? Not Who You’d Think from Watching TV

Even as abortions in America are becoming increasingly concentrated among low-income women, especially African Americans and Hispanics (graph h/t Ross Douthat), TV shows tend to depict abortion as a choice made mostly by affluent whites, according to a new study. From NPR (h/t Reihan Salam):

Characters on television who consider or obtain abortions don’t reflect the demographics of American women who choose them or their reasons for doing so, according to a recent analysis from researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.

The group looked at all depictions of abortion on U.S. television shows from 2005 to 2014. This included both network television shows and other distributors, including Netflix and Showtime. They found that TV characters who had abortions were younger, whiter, wealthier and less likely to be raising children than the average American woman who has an abortion. […]

Nearly 90 percent of the fictional characters were white, versus 36 percent in real life. About 30 percent of American women who choose abortions are black and about 25 percent are Latino. Fictional characters were also far less likely to be parents — about 15 percent versus more than 60 percent in real life.

These findings could be spun in several ways. Pro-choice advocates, for example, might argue that abortion rights are important precisely because they help protect vulnerable women from the economic shock of an unplanned pregnancy, and that the popular culture’s failure to convey this is harmful to the pro-choice cause. This appears to be more or less the interpretation of Gretchen Sisson, the study’s author, who suggests that if TV shows did a better job depicting “the reality of abortion care,” the public might be more skeptical of pro-life policies.

However, it’s also possible to imagine social conservatives making the opposite case. Pro-lifers have long maintained that America’s abortion regime has undertones of eugenics—that it is a kind of hidden violence with a disparate impact on poor and minority populations. TV’s depiction of abortion primarily as a selective practice undertaken by enlightened elites—rather than as an act of despair undertaken by people in vulnerable communities with few other options—might obscure some of the more uncomfortable implications of America’s abortion regime. And the way TV depicts abortion, the pro-lifers could argue, also unrealistically reinforces the “my body, my choice” framing of the abortion debate that is popular among pro-choice activists.

Either way, the study highlights the fact that with abortion, as with so many other issues related to sex and love and family and religion, there is a significant gap between popular culture and social reality.

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  • GS

    The are more deep social pathologies, of which abortion is merely a symptom.

  • Jim__L

    This has been true since Margaret Sanger.

    If you really push a Leftist to be rationally consistent in their beliefs about family, you’ll find their point of view leads inevitably to eugenics.

    • Andrew Allison

      Are you seriously suggesting that a leftist is capable of rational consistency (on any subject)?

      • Jim__L

        Yes, but they try not to be unless they figure they’re surrounded by people who have abandoned Judeo-Christian morality.

  • FriendlyGoat

    The political movement which seeks to outlaw abortion is the same one which seeks to reduce virtually all of the existing governmental safety nets under-pinning low-income mothers and children. If we thought that conservatives were advocating all kinds of economic help to poor mothers who choose delivery over abortion, this might be a different debate. But that’s not the case and never has been. The “eugenics” angle is the ridiculous fall-back position to which pro-lifers now intellectually retreat after saying “no” to social safety nets and “no” to women who are trying to choose not to burden society with more poorly supported children——both statements of “no” at the same time.

    Meanwhile, the implication here that “my body, my choice” is not suitable as a civil right for minority women, but is only “reinforced” by the depiction of white wealthier women on TV, is off-the-charts nut stuff.

    • Jim__L

      FG, Catholic Charities was FORCED out of its role facilitating adoptions because the Left cannot tolerate religious points of view.

      Your argument is, at best, disingenuous.

  • Tom

    Actually, there’s a simpler explanation for this. Most main characters, due to the provincialism of Hollywood screenwriters, are white and single.

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