Monday, September 2, 2013

Abortion and the soaps

It's blogging for choice day and, while this post doesn't really follow the "why you should vote pro-choice" theme of the day, in honor of the occasion I wanted to post a bit about some soap storylines I've been tracking lately. I became interested in the ways that soaps handle abortion when GH had a very thoughtful story about teenage Lulu Spencer's unplanned pregnancy in the summer of 2006. Unlike the typical plot of most American entertainment programming, in which the woman considering the abortion changes her mind at the last minute, or has a last minute miscarriage or, in the latest round of reproductive comedies, never gives abortion serious consideration, Lulu actually had the abortion in the GH story. And while it was a trying experience for her, and one she remembers with some pain, she suffered no long-lasting negative consequences, no "subtle" form of punishment for her decision. It was really an amazing and moving story, careful to present all "sides" in the issue, but never wavering in its assertion that Lulu had every right to make the choice she did and even asserting that this was a good choice, the right choice. Most of the other characters supported her decision and defended her right to choose and the ones who did not--such as her brother Lucky--had some mitigating circumstance that explained their perspective (Lucky was a messed up drug addict at the time--not exactly a ringing endorsement for the anti-abortion cause).

As I began to research past abortion stories on soaps, I found that many seem to have fallen into the more typical patterns of this kind of storytelling in American media. The earliest such story appeared on Another World in 1964, when Pat Matthews' illegal abortion almost killed her. The first legal abortion was of course Erica Kane's on All My Children in 1973--an event the show notoriously negated in recent years when the fetus Erica thought she had aborted appeared in Pine Valley, fully grown after having been miraculously saved by the unscrupulous doctor who had performed the initial procedure. Needless to say, this "unabortion" had soap fans in a serious uproar, incensed not only at the absurd revision of history but even more so at the political ramifications of undoing this landmark event.

There have been many more soap abortion stories over the years and the process of researching them is a long and challenging one. But I have no doubt that viewers have seen some thoughtful deliberations on the part of characters they care about while watching these stories. Some surely have included subtle and not-so-subtle messages about the evils of abortion, but others, like Lulu's story, have presented much more careful consideration of the matter than we tend to get anywhere else in our popular culture.