41 Years After Roe V. Wade: Shonda Rhimes Says More Conversations About Abortions Need To Happen On TV

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January 23, 2014 ‐ By
Shonda Rhimes abortions

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January 22nd marked the 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court deciding the landmark case that was Roe vs. Wade, which allowed abortions to become legal in the United States. To mark the occasion, one of our favorite producers, Shonda Rhimes (Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice), who serves on the board for Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, believes this is the year where the conversation about abortions needs to happen more on television. The television show Maude was the first show to feature a character who decided to have an abortion prior to the Supreme Court legalizing the procedure back in 1972. Laura Stampler of Time Magazine noted that since then, the number of times the discussion of abortion has been brought up on television could probably be counted on one hand.

Despite its legal standing, in recent times, abortions have become restricted in several states and have been virtually erased as a topic from television shows. Although it is not as present in media, the Guttmacher Institute released a report on the reality that television audience members face with pregnancies. Guttmacher reported that “more than half of pregnancies in the United States are unintended and some 22% of all pregnancies (not including miscarriages) end in termination.”

With this information, Rhimes claims it is time to shed light on the reality of what goes on without promoting it, but having a healthy discussion about it. Television creates an open dialogue for societal issues to be discussed, and this is one issue that is not being discussed enough. She said when she started Grey’s Anatomy in 2005, it wasn’t so easy to have a conversation about such a topic, as some at ABC weren’t sure they should allow talk about abortions. At the time, Rhimes wrote a storyline for Dr. Yang (played by Sandra Oh) that would include her experiencing an abortion after she unexpectedly got pregnant, but she changed her mind:

“Now, it’s a first season show, it was nine years earlier or whatever, and the network freaked out a little bit. No one told me I couldn’t do it, but they could not point to an instance in which anyone had. And I sort of panicked a little bit in that moment and thought maybe this isn’t the right time for the character, we barely know her… I didn’t want it to become like what the show was about.”

Years later, 2011 to be exact, she would allow Dr. Yang to go through this harrowing experience, married and pregnant, but not wanting to be a mom:

“I felt like we had earned all of the credentials with the audience. The audience knew these characters. The audience loved these characters. The audience stood by these characters. You know, we were in a very different place even politically, socially. Nobody blinked at the studio or the network when I wrote the storyline this time. Nobody even brought it up except to say, that was a really well written episode.”

As a producer, Rhimes says that she is more interested in creating shows that are generous when it comes to depicting the reality of life. That reality includes women using birth control, adopting or deciding on whether or not they want to abort a child. She doesn’t understand why other shows don’t:

“Most accidentally impregnated characters, even young women who have only lived in a post-Roe v. Wade world, don’t bring up or even briefly consider the option of an abortion. It is as if it doesn’t even exist. And [that's] weird and not realistic…let’s be serious about what’s really going on.”

Do you agree with Shonda? Tell us your thoughts below.

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  • Ms_Sunshine9898

    I’m not sorry, but for me, other than for the sake of the mother’s health, there is no story you can tell to justify ending the life of a growing human being. . .

  • what

    a fetus is not a child and cannot survive outside the womb without a woman. So therefore it is not killing a child. In addition I just don’t understand why people are so concerned about whether a woman chooses to continue her pregnancy and have a child. It is a woman’s right to choose. In addition how many people actually adopt? Right so yes it is a conversation that needs to be discussed I agree with shonda

  • MM82

    I knew a woman whose family didn’t believe in abortion but apparently they believed in incest. To make a long story short, the woman ended up in jail for child abuse and although the child made it through no one in the family wanted to take care of a disabled child or constantly look in the face of the family secret. The little girl went into a home and no one talks about it. Abortion is not a black and white issue . You may never know a person’s reason for doing what they do , so don’t be so quick to judge .

    • 9Boots

      Right because 99% of abortions ae because of rape/incest. Wrong. Onlt 1% of abortions are due to that reason, and even if it is under reported, it sure as heck is not going to total more then 10%

      • MM82

        My point was that you never know why some women may choose to have an abortion. With that being said , its wrong to crucify people when you dont know the whole story. Some women may do it for health reasons, some due to rape/incest and others simply because they were not ready to be a mother. In my original post I stated that no one seemed to care that the young lady was a victim of incest but everyone went crazy when abortion was mentioned. In my line of work I’ve seen many unwanted children abused and guess who goes on to hurt other people.

        • 9Boots

          It is wrong for people to not care about rape/incest so I agree with you on that. Medically necessary abortions are just that, medically necessary so there is no problem with that. But the rest of abortions are due to pure shenanigans, we need to be more responsible and stop being so willing to sacrifice babies in the name of pleasure.

  • 9Boots

    Women need to stop hiding behind the “it’s my body, it’s my choice” nonsense as a deflector from being judged. Women and men are both being completely irresponsible when it comes to sex. You can not abort your way out of irresponsiblity. 50 plus years later, 53 million abortions later, and people grow more irresponsible by the minute. How about recognizing that there is a time and a place for sex and that is in marriage.

  • hollyw

    Well, one thing is for sure. Whether you’re pro- life or pro- choice (or pro-no-sex-at-all-bc-almost-everybody-is-crazy-and-has-an-STD like myself), the point of the article is demystifying @bortion with exposure and education, such as with conversations like this. I think we have begun to achieve that here, and for that, I am thankful.

    *sidebar: you can really start by not putting a comment automatically into ‘moderation’ by having the word a.b.o.r.t.i.o.n. in it, MN. Thanks!

    • Dominique Thompson

      Mine is in moderation for the same reason. It’s a medical procedure not a bad word!

  • Kam

    I agree that television needs to be more open to discussing abortion. It shouldn’t just be a clip on the evening news because a Pro Life or Pro Choice group is protesting somewhere. But I also think that both above mentioned groups are so petrified of a possible slant towards their opposing side that they would vehemently oppose any discussion of abortion in a Prime Time television show.

    • Rostand63

      I agree that each side would be biased. I, personally, oppose such a topic during prime time since that is a time the children ‘allowed’ to be born may be watching and will have a LOT of questions. Now, if there are people willing to try to answer the questions at a very young age….well. Children should be allowed to stay children for as long as they can.

      • Guest

        Off topic, but I doubt anyone plans to discuss abortion on Disney, Nickelodeon or any other kid friendly channels. Parents are responsible for what their children see on television. If they don’t want them exposed to the topic of abortion then don’t let them watch channels or shows where the topic is discussed.

        That said, I think we should see more of this discussion on television. Sadly, with abortion rights eroding at an alarming rate I doubt this will come to pass anytime soon.

        • Rostand63

          You assume that cable is available and it’s all children watch these days. When the evening news breaks in or a show comes on featuring the politician who decided to become a woman or a same-sex couple getting married, we weren’t given a choice of when to explain that to the children during family hour. It’s impossible to change the channels fast enough sometimes. I can’t see where it would be any different if done with abortion rights discussions on tv. Even ABC Family seems obsessed with occult matters. Nothing is really off-limits, these days.

          • guest

            This is so true! And some of the kids channels are trying to expose children to controversial or adult issue too. I think there is a show on Disney that announced that they would feature an episode with a same sex couple. I think it might be “Good Luck Charlie” or something. Some wanted Bert and Ernie to have a gay wedding on Sesame Street for goodness sake! why a 3 year old would have to learn about homosexuality or any type of sexuality is beyond me, but there are those who are all for it.And with the media leaning to the left there is no doubt what side of the abortion debate they will show, i will be very surprised if they ever show a pro- life perspective or even remain neutral on this topic.

    • hollyw

      Agreed. Decisions about the procedure, whether you decide you’re for it or against it, are considered too often for it not to have decent exposure.

  • Rostand63

    Does Ms. Rhimes realize that “Roe” never HAD an abortion and regrets even trying to to this day? Does she know that the board she’s on-PP-is targeting black women and young girls by setting up across the street from high schools? Does she realize that more children are killed this way than by any other means in this country? It’s a BUSINESS. And it’s a dirty one.

    • mshenry70

      A dirty one but a woman’s choice. Not a man, the government or anyone else’s.

      • Rostand63

        Actually, none of us had a say in when we got here or when we leave. We didn’t ‘invent’ Life. We need to stop calling it a ‘choice’ and say it for what it is…if you are not pro-life, one can assume to be “pro-death” of a living human being. It’s God’s choice.

        • mshenry70

          It is a woman’s body. Only she has the right to decide whether or not continue a pregnancy so stop trying. You are not about to take care of any of these children, real talk but will be the first one complaining about out of wedlock children and welfare.

          • Rostand63

            Hardly. I know of the support that is available for children and adoption processes that exist. Love for life and children is what motivates me, not blame or complaining. A mother’s womb should be the safest place for a child. We’ve been suckered into believing that we need to kill a baby to have a life of our own. By the way, it’s easier not to get pregnant than to ‘get’ pregnant. This is not a financial discussion but hopefully, a moral one.

            • mshenry70

              In the end it is woman’s choice. Are you really naive enough to believe that if abortion is outlawed, it is going to go away? Hell no. The only people that will be affected by the dismantling of Roe vs Wade will be poor women. Rich women will do what they did back in the day when abortion was illegal: get one in another country or pay a doctor to do the abortion. Do you really want to go back to a time of back alley abortions all in the name of religious ideology? People need to worry about their own lives and stop meddling in the affairs of adults.

              • Rostand63

                Actually, I don’t think this is a political matter at all or it wouldn’t be an issue with both parties and neither doing anything about it. It should be a grassroots movement that simply explains to women who believe as you seem to that it is only a matter of money and not a baby’s life at stake here. I know where I stand and couldn’t hold my head up if I didn’t at least comment. There are a lot of women hurting all their lives after making that decision and resources available for healing for them, thank God. There are resources for the poor, as well.. Also, the pro-’choice’ movement seems to be targeting minorities which makes it look like population control amongst our race. I’d be worried about that if I were you and not believe the other hype.

                • mshenry70

                  It is a woman’s choice and it is not up to me or anyone else to enforce my beliefs into law. And some of our people should have never become parents considering how piss poor they are at parenting.

                  • Rostand63

                    You appear to be angry…that was not my intent in discussing this with you. Again, I don’t believe changing the law is the best bet at this point. Reminding women what we are capable of is a better option. We are able to bring life into the world, to raise children, to work, to thrive all in the right circumstances. Continuing to help the poor or unfit parents to overcome their difficulties enabling them to make better choices would be suit me, personally.

              • chanela

                how many times are you gonna state the obvious? nobody said that it wasn’t the woman’s choice, it’s just a messed up and preventable choice. GOD!

                • hollyw

                  Errm, you need to re-read the thread; Rostand63 distinctly said, “It’s God’s choice”…

            • mshenry70

              And in Chicago where I live, there are no Planned Parenthood clinics across the street from local high schools in black neighborhoods.. Stop using misinformation to push your agenda. Use the truth.

              • Rostand63

                I’m from Chicago, too. PP’s own documents state they are concentrated in cities. In all cities including Chicago.

        • hollyw

          Is it also God’ s choice every time you last down with someone? Does He choose your birth control, as well? Because something tells me you aren’t consulting Him on anything other than other people’s bodies…

          • Rostand63

            Not only the body but the Soul. We choose when and who we are with and, believe it or not, the body isn’t the only affected entity. As far as birth control goes, most are made with many hazards to our body’s health if you research it. Our bodies can tell us when is a good time to not get or to get pregnant, if we learn it. Then we can ‘choose’ the right times to have intercourse, accordingly. Google “Creighton Method of Fertility”. Most of us don’t even know the basics of how our body’s work nor have the discipline or respect to say “not tonight” because there’s a chance “we” can conceive. A loving partner is a participant in this decision. We are humans that can say ‘no’. Now, really…I’m done posting comments. Have a blessed weekend. ;-)

            • hollyw

              None of the birth control methods available in the U.S. are remotely as hazardous as giving birth, fyi. Giving birth is always life – threatening. Especially when you’re 11 Years old. You be blessed, as well!

      • Kam

        I agree with you. It is a woman’s choice (or a family choice in some circumstances), because in the end only that woman has to answer for why she made the choices she made. God gave us all that ability to choose for ourselves and suffer whatever consequences come as a result of that choice. I know a girl who spent her youth with her legs spread and using an AC as her birth control. She graduated from college and got married and wanted to start a family. She was unable to have children because of the number of abortions she had. And truth be told I don’t think they will ever get rid of abortions as a whole (though they will make them hard as heck to come by) because then what would they have to argue about during elections to distract us from truly major issues? An abortion isn’t my thing but I will never stand there and tell anyone else they don’t have the right to make that decision for themselves.

        • Rostand63

          Of course, we all have free will and it will always be that way. The goal is to raise women that know how to respect themselves and their bodies that such situations wouldn’t even be an issue. The law may never change. We have to.