Witches, Nuns, Mystics And (Mostly) Doctors: Abortion Providers On TV


A new study from UCSF research program Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) takes a look at abortion providers on television, during a period that has seen a notable uptick in small-screen depictions of the stigmatizing procedure — thanks to shows like Scandal. The conclusion, according to the paper is that medical dramas, and medical settings, lead the way in de-stigmatizing abortion and making providers seem caring and ethical.

Legal abortion care using medical methods was depicted as effective and safe, and legal providers were presented as compassionate, while providers operating outside of medical and legal authority were depicted as ineffective, dangerous and uncaring. Fictional providers were largely motivated by the belief that abortion provision is a necessary and moral service. Plotlines linked abortion provision to violence.

Dramas, and particularly medical dramas are effective in “normalizing” abortion on TV.

In some cases, medicalized settings were the main settings for the entire series in which the plotline appeared. In several medical dramas (ER; Grey’s Anatomy; House, M.D.; and Private Practice), abortions were presented within hospitals and physicians’ offices, which were the shows’ primary settings. This pattern normalized abortion spaces, both within the context of the shows’ other plotlines and within the provision of other medical care.

More infographics showing the study’s findings are below: