TV: Private Practice—Pro-Choice?

I’ve recently finished watching the latest series of Private Practice, the final of which aired here just over a month ago. The season dealt with the brutal rape of Dr. Charlotte King, about which you can read here and here, as well as the abortion debate that is raging across the world, but particularly in the U.S., with the rise of the über-conservative Tea Party, and 2012 presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann.

The second last episode of the season was said “abortion episode”. A woman named Patty came to see Dr. Addison Montgomery with pain, cramping and nausea after getting an abortion a month or two prior. When Addison does an ultrasound, she regrettably informs her patient that she’s still pregnant: the abortion didn’t take.

Patty’s foetus is now at 19 weeks, which would make the pregnancy in its second trimester, at which time an abortion is dubbed a “partial-birth abortion” by pro-lifers, as Dr. Naomi Bennett points out. Addison chides her for using political terminology, and that an abortion at 19 weeks is still perfectly legal, reiterating Patty’s right to choose, especially since she already made her decision the first time around several weeks ago.

Television and the media have a responsibility to present both sides of the story on such a contentious issue, even if they don’t live up to this most of the time. That’s why, when a show like Private Practice represents the abortion debate in such a refreshingly honest manner, it can be seen as revolutionary. (And it’s not the first time, either.) Not as revolutionary as Maude’s title character choosing to abort her unwanted pregnancy back in 1972, before the groundbreaking Roe VS. Wade decision, as this article points out, but still.

Naomi is a character I’ve never been a big fan of. She overreacts to everything (granted, overreaction may be warranted when your 16-year-old daughter gets pregnant and your best friend starts dating your ex-husband) and has a self-righteous, holier-than-thou attitude to most things, and her interference with Patty is no exception.

She uses her granddaughter Olivia to potentially guilt Patty into going ahead with her pregnancy, completely ignoring that Patty is single, after her deadbeat boyfriend took off when she told him she was pregnant, works two jobs, is poor, and is on her feet eight hours a day.

I had a real problem with this. Doctors should not push their personal beliefs on patients. If I were to fall pregnant tomorrow, I would be hitting up my nearest abortion clinic in a second, expecting to be given the care I’ve chosen, not to be lectured or threatened. As Addison says:

“… Even after you make the most difficult and personal decision that there is, it’s still not safe. Because you have some fanatic who claims to value life who can walk into an abortion clinic and blow it up.”

She continues:

“Why can’t Patty get what she needs, a safe and legal abortion without judgement?  Why does she have to go through this?  Why do I have to go through this?  I hate what I am about to do but I support Patty’s right to choose.  It is not enough to just have an opinion because in a nation of over 300 million people there are only 1700 abortion providers.  And I am one of them.”

The statistics are grim.

But, while trying to express the “pro-life” argument as well, Private Practice manages to remain pro-choice, which is no mean feat in the wake of reproductive rights being ripped from women across the world, and another PP, Planned Parenthood, being defunded en masse.

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Grey’s Anatomy Final Asks “When Does Life Begin?”

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Cristina Yang as Feminist.

Elsewhere: [New York Magazine] Emily Nussbaum on the Rape Episode of Private Practice.

[E! Online] The Morning After: Let’s Talk About Private Practice.

[Feminist in the City] Private Practice Tackles Abortion.

[Televisual] The Changing Economics of the TV Abortion.

[Fuck Yeah Choice] Just Keep Swimming: Abortion on Private Practice’s “God Bless the Child”.

[Dakota Women] And the Abortion Portrayal Award Goes to… Private Practice?

Images via Kate Walsh Fan.