Family Guy and abortion jokes

By now most readers of the feminist blogosphere know all about the Family Guy "Abortion episode" that was initially given a green-light by FOX and then kept off the air.

As no one’s actually seen the episode–which is apparently slated for a DVD release–it’s hard to judge one way or another and the conversation is slightly abstract. But I’m going to throw in my lot with those who say that even if the content is iffy, I’d rather have a chance to see and critique the epside than not. As Amanda wrote:

If you want a textbook example of how systemic sexism works, the taboo about portraying abortion on TV will suffice.  It’s the most common outpatient procedure in the country, and yet we write it off as fringe.

The word "abortion" is so rarely even uttered on TV, often spoken of via euphemism or oblique reference, that the idea of an "abortion episode" of any show sounds too intriguing to ignore. I’ve written for RH Reality Check about a number of plotlines on edgy, sexually hip shows like Friday Night Lights and Big Love that, based on characterization and plot arc logic, should have at least gestured further towards abortions for their pregnant characters–but instead took the typical TV copout route of a miscarriage or a pregnancy carried to term. This happens again and again. TV has created this bizarro world where a choice that most American women would consider strongly after an unintended pregnancy is all but erased.

It’s a damning silence. And that silence is why jokes about abortion, even if they’re off-color, are different from other types of misogynist jokes (specifically rape jokes). Yes, the proliferation of rape jokes can do damage by trivializing a horrible and all too accepted crime. But conversely the lack of abortion jokes creates this hyped-up atmosphere of tragedy and controversy around something that is quite common and needs to be discussed more. Even if Seth McFarlane and the Family Guy team failed miserably to be funny or edgy in their attempts to milk humor from abortion, even if they were crass and sexist, I’d hope the episode would be an opening salvo for more comics, artists and others to talk about this reality in women’s lives that, like all realities, has to contain fodder for humor.

But what do you think? Should we leave the abortion jokes to more reliably friendly sources?


Other discussions of the Family Guy abortion episode around the web:


How to be funny: Start by not sucking

from by Amanda Marcotte


Family Guy" takes on abortion



Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact

Follow Sarah Seltzer on twitter: @sarahmseltzer

  • independentminded

    The late Boston School Committeewoman, Louise Day Hicks, once told the following anti-abortion joke, which the pro-lifers would  undoubtedly love:


    What do you call a woman who isn’t on the Pill?


    Answer:  Mother. 



  • invalid-0

    humorously handled the issue of abortion on at least one episode. Watch it if you can!

  • invalid-0

    Sorry, what is funny about the chopped up baby, the evacuated (sucked out) brain, the millions of dead girls in particular, dead secondary to abortion?
    Girl, until you have watched an abortion, helped cut up that “non-viable” human, and until you have watched the dangling feet of an infant partially deliverd, watched its arms wiggle only to stop when the brain is sucked out during the “partial-birth” abortion…infanticide if the head is delivered….until then, keep your pen quiet about jokes and abortion. You are sort of a new Goebbels, aren’t you?

  • invalid-0

    It’s just not a funny topic in general. Even if it is more common than people know, there isn’t a lot of room for humor in the situation. Most women don’t have abortions out of a real desire to get one, but out of a lack of desire to have a child at that time in their life,. Even as a supporter of abortion rights one should understand that the subject matter is serious, it is a surgical procedure,, and it does carry a lot of emotional baggage for a lot of people so I respect comedians for staying away from the subject for the most part.

  • invalid-0

    I think that talking about abortion on tv is a good thing, even if in joke form. Family Guy is a smart show. I’d like to see the episode.

  • aspen-baker

    Earlier this year, Exhale devoted an entire issue of our bilingual abortion zine Our Truths-Nuestras Verdades to the theme of humor and abortion. We surveyed women and men about their own personal experiences regarding humor and abortion – did they ever use humor in their coping process? how do they feel when they hear abortion jokes in the media? etc…and our feature article details their responses. You can read it here:

  • invalid-0

    Perfect timing. Only a couple of weeks ago – after entering the online world of the pro-life movement (bigtime initiation over at Abort73 – I began compiling sketches for a 2-3 day/week “comic” strip intended to vent my frustrations and bottled-up anger over the politics and other various shenanigans of abortion advocates and that whole industry. With four thousand fetuses each day to choose from too bad only a few will get their say…

  • ronnica

    I just don’t think that many people think abortion is funny. Even if someone thinks that it’s okay in theory, they don’t want to think about it when they’re enjoying an evening of television. How about we just talk about abortion more, period?