Abortion Is 20 Times More Dangerous on TV Than It Is In Real Life
Maybe that's why only 8 percent of people know abortion is safer than wisdom-tooth removal.
CN: cissexism, gendered language
When a woman on TV experiences an unplanned pregnancy, the story usually goes one of two ways: She discovers it’s an unexpected blessing and opts to keep the baby, or she has a miscarriage, dodging the decision-making process altogether. Occasionally, she elects adoption or decides to terminate her pregnancy. If she gets an abortion, more than four times out of 10, something’s going to go wrong.
A new study from Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH), a California-based reproductive-health research group, found that 42.5 percent of the abortion storylines on TV from 2005 to 2016 included a “complication, intervention, or major health consequence"—more than 20 times the actual rate of abortion-related complications. Five percent of them ended in the death of the patient, a rate about 6,850 times higher than the mortality rate for abortion in the U.S.
Researchers found 80 abortion plots that aired on television in the past decade, on shows including Jack and Bobby, The Walking Dead, Quantico, Law & Order SVU, Nip/Tuck, and House, MD. In 28.8 percent of them, characters ended up with long-term health consequences like infertility or severe depression. Three women, or 3.8 percent of characters, had to get a hysterectomy as a result of a botched abortion; in real life, 0.004 percent of U.S. abortion patients end up needing a hysterectomy. Four characters died, compared to 0.00073 percent of abortion patients nationwide.
In one regard, this isn’t surprising at all. Communications consultants commit far more felonies on Scandal than they do in real life, and soap opera characters don’t present a realistic cross-section of amnesia patients, but both make for useful plot twists and entertaining television. On the other hand, abortion is a heavily politicized procedure that’s been shrouded in secrecy and shame despite the fact that about one in three women will have one in her lifetime. TV shows that turn a routine medical service into a life-threatening risk are shaping the way millions of Americans imagine a procedure they know very little about.