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Grey’s Anatomy: Tackling the A-word

15 October 2011
Posted in: Social issues | Be the first to comment

***SPOILERS AHEAD for Grey’s Anatomy, season 8***

Going where few women have gone before

Abortion: the one subject prime time American TV serials seem to give a wide berth. Unless, of course, it is either an abortion born (pardon the pun) out of medical or financial necessity, in which case it is also portrayed as a wrenching and despairing loss, or a result of rape or incest. The moral of the story, as told by the popular media, is: at the end of the day, the one thing all women aspire to is motherhood; and though that might be a fact some women are unware or dismissive of, the fates eventually conspire to set them straight (oops, sorry again).

As a long-time fan of American TV, I had all but given up ever seeing abortion as a valid choice, especially in a prime-time mainstream series. Kit Porter in the L Word had one, but that sort of just proves the point. Heck, even hearing the word was a highlight. Which was why Season 7 of Grey’s Anatomy was so interesting. It ended with Cristina Yang having discovered that she was pregnant. Interesting because, true to her character, Cristina’s reaction was shock, the development a total disaster. This was not at all surprising to anyone with even a slight insight into her character. Cristina has had her life planned out for a while and having children never featured in it. Owen, it turned out, had a radically opposed stand, and the acrimonious exchange led to their splitting up.

Usually, the discovery of an accidental pregnancy is accepted as good news and a lot of happy screeching and congratulating follows. It is not questioned in any other way. In cases where a baby has hitherto been unwanted, TV serials and movies tend to take the easy way out: the story twists towards changing the woman’s mind, so she is shown as making a “choice” anyway, a choice of keeping the baby, because she has now come around to accepting that a child only enriches a person’s life and she was wrong not to want it. The other option, of course, is a fortuitous miscarriage.

So, what was Cristina going to do? To the credit of Shonda Rhimes, creator and executive producer of Grey’s, the series tackled it head on and stayed true to Cristina’s character. In the twin pilot episodes of season 8, Cristina Yang had her abortion and all was right in her world. At no time was there any indication or obscure hint that Cristina might be changing her mind. In fact, it was Owen who went through a journey that eventually helped him understand his partner a little better, and accept and respect her decision, irrespective of whether he agreed with it.

Though happy to help best friend Meredith with her new baby, it did not bring about any magical moments of ‘enlightenment’ where Cristina might have embraced her impending (possible) motherhood. No melting of hearts, no re-evaluating of her values and ambitions. No. Cristina had an abortion because she did not want a baby. She was a young, happy, healthy, financially secure woman. Oh, and yes, she was married.

Grey’s may not be the first to tackle the issue of abortion, but it is still significant in the way it was protrayed: low-key and matter of fact. Maybe it will herald a new age where we see more women on screen making independent choices about their own bodies and their own lives, not restricted by what society expects of them.

~PD

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