Abortion on TV: Storylines affect our real-life views and laws

In a 1994 episode of “Roseanne,” the title character already had children, was pro-choice, then became unexpectedly pregnant with a potentially abnormally-developing fetus, so she and her husband discussed abortion. “The only reason why there is conflict in this episode is not because the baby might face challenges, or that the pregnancy might end through natural causes. The conflict in this episode becomes whether or not she has chosen to go through with the procedure or not,” says Tanya Melendez, a researcher at the University of Illinois. Credit: YouTube

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case about a Mississippi law that bans almost all abortions after 15 weeks and punishes doctors who violate that law. The high court is also looking at Texas’ law that prohibits abortions even earlier — once a heartbeat is detected. 

TV has lied about abortion, says Tanya Melendez, a researcher at the University of Illinois. “We were taught that women should feel badly because every woman we saw felt badly. I think we were taught that women regret their abortions, which we know from data is not true. ... When you absorb those lessons for decades, when you're raised thinking that's what it looks like, you vote according to those values. … And yet this was a procedure that we know one in three women will have,” she tells KCRW.

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