I’m rooting for an abortion.
There’s sure to be an exciting football game in this week’s episode of Friday Night Lights (which has already aired on DirecTV but airs on NBC on Friday), but it’s the outcome of Becky’s pregnancy, not the game, that I’ll be interested in tonight.
In last week’s episode, 15-year-old Becky found out she was pregnant and is considering an abortion. If she has one tonight, it will be one of only a few abortions shown on network television since Bea Arthur’s Maude had one back in 1972. That would be a victory for Becky—and the millions of women like her who choose abortion every year.
In the real world, abortion is one of the most common surgical procedures in the country and more than a third of American women will have one by age 45. On TV, however, unexpected pregnancies usually result in a baby without even a mention of the “A” word. If a character does consider abortion, as Private Practice’s Maya did last season and Grey’s Anatomy’s Christina did in Season 1, it typically ends with an 11th hour change of heart or a convenient miscarriage as a last-minute cop-out. But Friday Night Lights has already shown it’s not afraid to tackle controversial issues with a nuance and realism that’s unparalleled in mainstream television. If any show can offer a thoughtful, honest portrayal of the intensely personal decision to end an unwanted pregnancy, it’s this one.
I’m rooting for an abortion because I’m rooting for Becky. Because she is a sophomore in high school and desperately wants to escape Dillon, Texas. Because she was raised by a single teenage mother and is determined not to relive her life. Because after taking four pregnancy tests and getting four positive results, she called the 1-800 number on the box near tears to find out just how accurate these tests are. Because when she discovered she was pregnant, Becky said she wanted to get an abortion.
And I want Becky to have an abortion without the world crashing down around her. I want her to have an abortion and then go back to competing in beauty pageants, fighting with her mom, and obsessing over her crush, Tim Riggins. I want her to get on with being a rather silly 15-year-old girl. And I want someone in her life to tell her she shouldn’t be ashamed of making the decision that’s right for her.
I’m rooting for an abortion because I want all the teenage girls who have been in Becky’s position and had an abortion to see their choice represented on TV with respect and empathy. According to the Guttmacher Institute, each year, 750,000 women aged 15–19 become pregnant. Nearly a third of these young women decide to get an abortion, representing 18% of all abortions in the U.S. each year. While Becky isn’t real, these women are. And they deserve to see their choice acknowledged and validated onscreen.
Becky, like all great characters, represents someone we know or someone we love or someone we might be. And I want all the teenage girls watching who may one day find themselves, like Becky, unexpectedly pregnant and very scared to know that they too can have an abortion and that life—and football—will go on.