National Partnership for Women & Families

In the News

Study finds TV shows often portray abortion providers as safe, effective

Television shows tend to depict abortion providers as safe and competent, according to a new study from the University of California-San Francisco's (UCSF) Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, the Huffington Post reports.

For the study, UCSF's Gretchen Sisson and Katrina Kimport examined 40 TV shows that depicted 52 abortion storylines between 2005 and 2014. About three-quarters of the abortion storylines were presented in dramas, most of which were medical. According to the researchers, 46 percent were presented in network shows, while the rest were depicted on cable or subscription channels.

Key findings

Overall, the researchers found that the TV shows generally presented abortion providers as effective and safe medical professionals.

In contemporary medical dramas such as "ER," "Grey's Anatomy," "House, M.D." and "Private Practice," storylines portrayed abortion care that was provided at doctors' offices or in the hospital. According to the researchers, such settings help normalize facilities where abortion care is offered. Meanwhile, "The Knick," a medical drama set in the 1900s, depicted positive motivations for abortion providers, such as a desire to help save women's lives.

However, the study also found that TV shows tended to present abortion care provided outside of a modern medical facility as less safe and largely ineffective. In addition, such care was frequently administered by an unreliable or deceptive provider.

Comments

Sisson said, "I think it's largely good news." She added, "We found that providers who were physicians working in contemporary medical settings were portrayed pretty well ... They were safe. They were competent. They were invested in their patients' wellbeing."

However, Sisson cautioned that the highly medicalized portrayal of abortion care on TV shows could mislead viewers into thinking that abortion care provided in a different manner -- such as medication abortion or abortion care provided by a nurse practitioner -- is unsafe. According to Sisson, depicting abortion care offered outside of traditional medical facility as unsafe or ineffective could implicitly reinforce targeted regulation of abortion provider (TRAP) laws, which impose medically unnecessary restrictions on providers under the claim of protecting women's health.

Sisson also expressed hope that a mainstream comedy TV show would soon depict abortion care in a thoughtful manner. "I think we will see it eventually," she said, adding, "We might not be there yet, but it's such a common procedure ... So I think it will come up more and more" (Pearson, Huffington Post, 9/29).