Last night, MTV aired a half hour program called “No Easy Decision,” in which three young women discussed their decision to have an abortion. I”ll be honest-my muscles are sore today from how tautly I was holding them last night. I was really scared of how MTV would treat this, what sorts of myths they might perpetuate, how they’d talk about the decision and if they’d let actual young women talk about it in their own words.
I’m not going to recap the whole show, there are plenty of good places to go for those. I’m going to point out some salient moments, though, and places where I think MTV did a tremendous job and a less tremendous job.
1. Shelby Knox‘s tweet after the show ended sums up a lot: “It was too short, it should have had advertisers, & it shouldn’t have been on so late.” Also, there’s no indication that it will be rerun. 16 and Pregnant and the specials associated with it are on at least once a day, so I don’ t think this is an accident.
2. There’s an extended interview available at http://on.mtv.com/eFbOPC. I just watched it, and there are some interesting details that were left out of the show that aired. Natalya discussed being forced to see the sonogram during the counseling session that preceeded the abortion. (In the televised segment, Natalya talked about living in a state that had parental notification laws, and having to seek a judicial bypass-permission from a judge-so she didn’t have to tell her parents.) Markai: “They made you see the sonogram? That is horrible!” Natalya: “That felt like such a violation, that was the hardest part.” I’m not sure of the editing process behind this, but it’s strange to me that this wasn’t included in the footage. Natalya also mentioned that by talking about her abortion, she feels “like I’m making up for everyone else’s silence.”
3. T and I discussed afterwards the fact that show was hatched as a result of Markai, a teen mom who was on an earlier episode of 16 and Pregnant, and her second pregnancy which she chose to terminate. This seemed to us to be an easy way out-by portraying someone who was already a mom, there was a certain amount of pathos that she automatically got. After all, she was doing what was best for her daughter, since her situation was already so hard. The function of the other two young women, who didn’t have children, might have been to counteract this, but it’s still interesting to me that it originated from Markai.
4. Dr. Drew: I was fully expecting to feel enraged, but it didn’t happen. “My hope is that people honor this conversation,” he said. He made sure to normalize abortion as not only an option, but a safe, routine medical procedure. Most notable for me was when he told the audience that there are all sorts of reactions to abortion, ranging from feeling sad and depressed to relief and happiness.
5. At one point, the three young women, sitting next to each other on the couch, were holding hands, and I cried. MTV made me cry- giant, feminist tears. I was really not expecting that moment, full of affirmation and power and strength between women. It was such a relief to see the decision being recognized as one that’s complicated, scary, and worthy of compassion and respect. Katie said, “It wasn’t shirking my responsibility. My decision to terminate my pregnancy was a parenting decision.”
After the show, of course, MTV returned to teen moms in the 16 and Pregnant reunion special. If you haven’t seen one before, it basically features Dr. Drew skewering both the teen moms and dads and making them talk about things like how they got pregnant in the first place. Of particular note was Emily and her boyfriend Daniel, from Alabama, who were asked about the kind of sex education they’d gotten. Not surprisingly, the answer is abstinence only, to which Dr. Drew replied that negotiation skills are entirely left out of the conversation. There’s never a discussion of how to talk about what you want and don’t want, hindering any hope of healthy conversations in relationships, an excellent way to get pregnant. Emily’s dad: “There have to be other options, they have to talk about real choices.”
So, in the end, I feel somewhat better. I’m not satisfied, of course, because the question of whether women are allowed to choose remains one of the best examples of deeply held misogyny that still needs to be contended with, and it makes me crazy that we’re even talking about it. “No Early Decision” is a good start, but make no mistake, there is a long, long way to go.