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Did You See Boston Legal’s Take on Abortion?

November 11, 2008

I was going to write a bit about this today, but I see that Amie Newman has already done a fantastic job.

In short, television show Boston Legal involved two fictional cases last night, one in which the firm’s lawyers are asked to represent a teenage girl seeking a judicial bypass so she obtain an abortion (as her mother won’t consent).

Amie notes many of the issues I saw, including the framing of the issue through the male characters, Shirley’s insistence “anyone who has an abortion never gets over it” ignoring the wide range of emotions women having abortions actually feel, the generalization that the pro-choice need Roe v. Wade in place because they haven’t personally understood their own convictions (which I personally disagree with heartily), and the easy out of making the girl Chinese and presumed to be aborting because the fetus is female.

In addition to these points, two other things bothered me. The first is that the teen girl was very well-informed and well-spoken about her rights in a way that is almost shocking in the current climate, and I felt that this knowledge was used to cast her in a suspicious light. If she’s not really suffering over the decision, and displays strength of her conviction, we must not be getting the whole story, the writers suggest.

Second, she never indicates, I believe (I was getting sleepy) that sex selection is the reason for the abortion. She insists that it’s none of anyone’s business why she is making her choice (righteous indignation is also viewed as suspicious), and we only have her mother’s word that this is the reason. Her mother denied consent for abortion in the first place, and knows that sex selection will give the court pause in issuing the consent; she also suggests that she herself has undergone an abortion for sex selection reasons, and all of these factors make her a somewhat unreliable narrator of the situation. This aspect of the story was simply convenient, a way to say “gotcha” to pro-choice woman Shirley and others who might have otherwise supported the judicial bypass, and yet we never learn whether this turning point was truly accurate, or even the outcome after the bypass was granted. This was just a way, as Denny Crane indicates in the beginning, to make it “fun.”

Okay, a third thing – I didn’t like the end focus on Freakonomics and the idea that legal abortion may reduce the crime rate as an argument to sway Alan himself and Denny, because that rationale tilts uncomfortably close to denying the right to reproduce to whoever is considered “undesirable.” I’m very much in the “yes, there’s an ethical conflict between two living creatures, but the fully formed woman creature who is acting as host must be in charge of negotiating it” space on abortion, not at all in the “some people shouldn’t have babies anyway” space. Yuck.

I guess I ended up writing a bit about it anyway. Go read Amie’s post – it’s quite good. I think that you can watch the full episode online if you’re so inclined.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 11, 2008 10:03 am


    I hated that ending as well. I couldn’t believe this was the person they used as a pro-choice counter. Freakanomics?! You put it better than I could have – there is righteousness and clarity in the “yes, there’s an ethical conflict between two living creatures” and only the woman in whose body that life is growing gets to decide whether to sustain or sever the connection! Rooting a pro-choice position in the “some people shouldn’t have babies anyway” is not the compassionate stance of any of the thoughtful, intelligent, kind, justice and equality-oriented reproductive health advocates I know.

    Thanks for writing about this as well!

    RH Reality Check

  2. November 11, 2008 12:10 pm

    Well, my husband watches that show. I dislike it intensely, because I find it full of unfunny shticks and because it always completely stacks the deck in favor of whichever political point of view it’s presenting (and most weeks it has one) and refuses to recognize the legitimacy of other viewpoints. But my husband was yelling at the TV for the whole hour, and he made most of the same points that you did, Rachel. Except that on the precocious 15-year-old, he said that every time a child is a major character on the show, s/he is always more articulate and self-aware than the adult characters, so this was just more of the same. But, please … could we just put the myth that all women who have abortions are haunted?

  3. November 11, 2008 12:12 pm

    And BTW, when I click on the link to RH Reality Check, I get a “site under construction” page.

  4. November 11, 2008 12:21 pm

    Weird, nm, it’s working for me.

  5. November 11, 2008 1:09 pm

    Is it supposed to be showing ads for Amd Athlon?

  6. November 11, 2008 2:03 pm

    No, apparently they’re having some kind of technical problem, and are working on getting it fixed ASAP.

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