From Dirty Dancing to GLOW: How abortion on screen has changed

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WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 21: Protesters hold posters in support of Planned Parenthood at a rally to oppose the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and its replacement on Capitol Hill on June 21, 2017 in Washington, DC. Criticism is mounting on the GOP for health care reform legislation being done behind closed doors. (Photo by Astrid Riecken/Getty Images)

Planned Parenthood recently applauded GLOW for its depiction of abortion, but abortion storylines on screen haven’t always been so well-handled.

Abortion is a touchy subject. Prior to Roe v. Wade in 1973, dangerous and illegal abortions led to high maternal mortality rates. Following the decision, legal abortion rates doubled between 1973 and 1979. They peaked in 1990 before following a steady decline throughout the ’90s. As with most forms of sexual health care, access and affordability often leads to a decline in patients seeking services.

Media representation of abortion has also been a touchy subject. Since it first became a plot point on “Maude” in 1972, movies and TV shows have approached abortion from several different angles. Some depictions have been realistic and others, not so much. Some have centered the feelings and thoughts of people (usually women) seeking abortions and others have (unfortunately) centered those of people around them. In every instance, abortion is an uncomfortable topic that creates waves in these fictional universes, much like in real life.

Planned Parenthood recently applauded the Netflix original series GLOW for an “authentic depiction of abortion.” In the year 2017, sexual and reproductive health access in the US is under fire in a big way. Seeing realistic depictions of abortion on screen is vastly important for encouraging people to seek all available options if confronted with an unexpected or unwanted pregnancy.

Let’s take a look at 15 abortion storylines and how they were handled in films and TV series. Not all of the characters discussed actually go through with having abortions, but each presents an important take on how abortion has been depicted in pop culture since the early 1980s.