As the September cover girl for Flare magazine, actress Mindy Kaling made a curious comment about intentionally avoiding the subject of abortion on her popular sitcom.
A parenthetical aside in the profile said, “Kaling has no plans to address the American right’s current war on abortion: ‘It would be demeaning to the topic to talk about it in a half-hour sitcom.’” A Celebitchy article may have oversimplified what she said, and the resulting statement that has been circulating on social media is that Kaling said it would be demeaning to address abortion at all. It’s possible that she just meant she didn’t want her show to take a political position. But without additional context, we can’t know for sure.
Kaling is the writer, producer and lead actor in Fox's “The Mindy Project,” which follows a young OB/GYN doctor who is trying to balance her professional and personal life.The show has been criticized in the past for misrepresenting the reality of female OB/GYNs, not having a diverse enough cast and using “worn out” comedy in its two-year run.
And it’s faced some blowblack -- but none that would qualify as a major backlash -- for avoiding the topic of abortion in its two-year run. Ahead of the show’s premiere in 2012, ThinkProgress’ Alyssa Rosenberg hoped “The Mindy Project” would address abortion. A year later, the Atlantic’s Jake Flanagin said the show was in the need of adjustments, specifically pointing out how the existing plotlines have “failed to utilize a built-in platform to discuss women's reproductive health.” The recent Flare article may reignite that discussion.
@mindykaling maybe it's because your Mindy Project character has yet to perform a single on-camera abortion. USE YOUR POWER FOR GOOD MINDY
— problemaddict (@lalochezic) October 17, 2012
Demeaning or no, respected television series have not shied away from abortion in the past. One of the first and most famous abortion storylines appeared in a 1972 in an episode of CBS’ “Maude.” When Maude (Bea Arthur), the 47-year-old protagonist, found herself unexpectedly pregnant, she was faced with a decision that was often far more difficult in the 1970s than it is today. At first Maude and her husband Walter (Bill Macy) wanted to keep the baby, but the pair later decided they were too old to become new parents. It aired a couple few before the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion all over the U.S., and the character – who lived in New York where the procedure was legal – decided to have an abortion.
Since then, dozens of television shows have had abortion storylines. A recent study found that there were a total of 310 plotlines in American film and television that discussed abortion between 1916 and 2013. The majority – 55.8 percent -- resulted in the characters following through with the procedure. A quarter of the lot decided to raise the child, while around 10 percent chose adoption or lost the pregnancy.
One of the most recent instances took place on the British series, “Downton Abbey.” The 1920s-set period piece showed one of the main characters opting for an abortion, but deciding at the last minute against terminating the pregnancy. The episode, which aired in the U.S. in February, stirred up debate in the U.S. on whether the show was taking an anti-abortion stance.
Other television shows have made their characters grapple with the decision of keeping an unwanted or unexpected pregnancy. Below are examples of abortion plotlines from the past two decades:
On NBC’s “Parenthood,” Drew’s girlfriend, Amy, decides to get an abortion, despite the fact that he wants to keep the baby. Drew is devastated by Amy’s decision, and their relationship can’t recover.
In an episode of HBO’s “Girls,” Jessa reveals she is pregnant and decides to get an abortion. Her friends meet her at a clinic, but she never shows up. Instead, Jessa goes to a bar and proceeds to have sex with one of its patrons in a restroom. There, she suffers a miscarriage.
On ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” Sandra Oh’s character, Cristina, gets pregnant. While her husband wants to keep the baby, she does not want a child to interfere with her job. She decides to have an abortion. Oh’s character has faced a similar decision in the past. During the show’s second season, Cristina became pregnant. She discussed abortion at the time but later lost the baby in an ectopic pregnancy.
Becky from NBC’s “Friday Night Lights” faced the possibility becoming a teen mother when she discovers she’s pregnant. Her first thought is to have an abortion, but later she begins to doubt her decision. In the end, Becky goes through with the procedure.
AMC’s “Mad Men” showed Joan contemplating an abortion. She heads to a clinic but decides to keep the baby. In the episode, Joan revealed she had two abortions in the past, leading her to the decision to raise this unexpected child.
Lynette on ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” discovers she’s pregnant, but is considering abortion since she is starting a new job and her husband is returning to school. Ultimately she decides to keep the baby after Susan reminds her that children are a gift.
ABC Family first aired its teen drama “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” on July 1, 2008. The series followed 15-year-old Amy Juergens, who discovers she is pregnant after having sex with a boy from band camp. She decides to keep the baby. The show follows Amy through high school as she juggles parenting and future relationships. The series ran until June 3, 2013.
The Canadian teen drama “Degrassi: The Next Generation” showed one of the main characters, Manny, deciding to terminate her pregnancy. The two-part episode was aired in Canada in 2004, but the U.S. distributor, The N, decided not to air the episodes, saying," It's a serious episode and the summer [schedule] is all lighthearted.” Petitions and protests from U.S. fans eventually led the episode to be aired in 2006.
In the season finale of Fox’s “The O.C.,” Ryan’s girlfriend, Theresa, initially decides to have an abortion but later changes her mind. ''As hard as it is to imagine having the baby,'' she tells Ryan, ''I can't really imagine not having it.''
Seventeen-year-old Claire from HBO’s “Six Feet Under” decides to have an abortion. Later a “heavenly fetus” visits her in a dream.
The WB’s “Everwood” addressed abortion when 18-year-old Kate decides to undergo the procedure. At the end of the episode, the show “hedges its bets,” as Ken Tucker at Entertainment Weekly put it, when the doctor who performed the abortion goes to confession to ask for forgiveness.
In HBO’s “Sex and the City,” Miranda becomes pregnant after a one-night stand with her ex-boyfriend. At first she decides to have an abortion, but after her friends share their stories of terminating unwanted pregnancies while one is desperate to have a family, Miranda ultimately decides to keep the baby.
Dawson’s mother, Gail, on “Dawson’s Creek” revealed she was pregnant. While she initially decided to have an abortion, Dawson convinces her to keep the baby.
On “Felicity,” Ruby goes to a clinic to have an abortion but decides against it at the last minute. She initially decides to raise the baby alone, but the presumed father, Noel, later returns to be part of the baby’s life. Later, he discovers he is not the father.
Andrea from "Beverly Hills 90210" contemplates having an abortion, much to the dismay of her Catholic boyfriend, who dumps her. Later, she changes her mind, keeps the baby and her ex-boyfriend proposes to her.
On “Melrose Place,” Jane thinks about having an abortion after her boyfriend reveals he does not want children. She later changes her mind and keeps the baby.
On Canada’s “Degrassi High,” Erica opts to have an abortion after she discovers she’s pregnant. Her sister brings her to a clinic, where they have to wade through a crowd of protesters. When the episode aired in the U.S., the protesters were edited out and it remained ambiguous what choice Erica made.