I know I’m a little late to the game here, but this weekend I was finally able to catch up on last week’s Teen Mom 2 season premier and all its resplendent drama. It was mostly more of the same — family infighting, jealousies, disappointment — with one exception: Jenelle had an abortion.
For an abortion rights advocate like myself, this was a sublime moment in TV history. Not just because the episode actually addressed abortion head-on, but because it did so in a way that belied the myth of abortion always being a horrific, gut wrenching regret of a decision. Instead, Jenelle weighed her options, consulted her mother (hats off to Barbara for being 100% supportive) and chose abortion. There was no sobbing, no hysterics, no anguish (at least not that we saw in the edited version that aired). What’s more, Jenelle’s mom described it as “a wise decision.” And apparently she’s not alone in this opinion; 58% of those surveyed in an MTV.com poll agreed that Jenelle made the right decision.
This is not to assume that Jenelle is an emotionless automaton, but it was refreshing to see abortion explored as a viable option without anyone being whipped into a frenzy over it.
Jenelle’s story isn’t unique. She represents the 6 in 10 women who are already mothers and seek abortion care. As we discover, Jenelle is also among the 1 in 3 who must travel a significant distance to access an abortion provider: she and her mother had to drive several hours the night before her appointment and stay in a hotel. Here, in the face of this all-too-common obstacle, is where Jenelle’s story diverges from many women’s stories: she was fortunate to have the support of someone who was willing and able to provide transportation, lodging and funding for the procedure. There are myriad women who, like Jenelle, want to terminate a pregnancy but do not have the means or support to access a clinic.
Which brings me to my most-used talking point: a right does not exist if one can not access it. Just because abortion is legal does not mean it’s accessible; therein lies the rub. But I digress (sort of). It would do wonders for the reproductive justice movement if more mainstream media portrayed abortion in an uncontroversial light. While it’s true that some iconic films and TV series have addressed abortion, the entertainment industry typically steers clear from it. Instead of treating abortion as a polarizing, contentious lamentation, the media should take a page from MTV’s playbook here, and reflect the varied realities of women’s experiences.