'Friday Night Lights' Tackles Abortion


In 2004, Kate Aurthur of the New York Times referred to abortion as "television's most persistent taboo." Such is still the case today. It is nearly unheard of for a television character—let alone on a network show—to have an abortion. When the issue of abortion is broached by TV writers, it is often resolved with characters either deciding to have the baby or suffering through a miscarriage.

That said, Becky's ultimate decision to have an abortion on Friday Night Lights this week—and carrying it out—wasn't the most surprising thing for me in this week's episode. It was the nuanced, apolitical manner in which the writers depicted the reality of a teenage girl facing and dealing with the choices and consequences that surround an unwanted and unplanned pregnancy that impressed me. The episode was devoid of political posturing or grandstanding. It didn't insult its viewers. It was classic "show-not-tell" at its best. Those who are pro-choice may have had trouble with people like Luke or the State of Texas—through its parental consent laws, waiting periods, counseling sessions and the high cost of the procedure, especially for some from a lower-income background like Becky—imposing their pressures on Becky or putting unnecessary roadblocks in front of her and her right to choose.

Similarly, those who are ardently pro-life may have obviously had a problem with Becky terminating her pre-born child instead of having the child and giving it up for adoption or to Luke's parents to raise.

But even the most fervent pro-life advocate who cringes at even seeing a fictional depiction of a young woman deciding to have an abortion must realize that abortion is legal, and it occurs every day. And the writers managed to allow us to see a young woman struggle with her ultimate decision to terminate her pre-born child.

The dialogue between Becky and Tammy epitomizes the masterful and nuanced way the writers dealt with this taboo:

Becky: I have an appointment for my abortion tomorrow. Why do I feel so weird?
Tammy: Because it's a hard decision. Have you thought about what you want?
Becky: We don't have any money. I'm in the 10th grade. It was my first time. I threw it away, and I don't want to throw my life away. It's just really obvious that my mom wants me to have this abortion because I was her mistake and she has just struggled and hurt and everyday she wanted better. And I knew better. I was just thinking forget about what she wants, what do I want? Maybe I could take care of this baby. And maybe I would be good at it and I could love it and be there for it. Then I think about how awful it would be if I had a baby and I spent the rest of my life resenting him or her. Do you think I'm going to hell if I had an abortion?
Tammy: No honey, I don't.
Becky: What would you tell your daughter?
Tammy: I would tell her to think about her life, think about what's important to her and what she wants and I would tell her she's in a real tough spot and then I would support whatever decision she made.
Becky: I can't take care of a baby ... I can't.

I'm sure there will be a lot of chatter as to why the show decided to go forth with Becky's abortion. Some will say that it was consistent with the show's fearlessness in tackling subjects others shows have considered to be taboo or are afraid to touch. Others may say that the writers were just depicting reality in America's small towns for though "red" states may be known for its "pro-life" rhetoric, abortion occur there in greater numbers than in some "pro-choice" blue states. Or some may say that since a core part of Friday Night Lights' audience has sensibilities more consistent with the city in which it is filmed (Austin, TX) than the fictional town it masterfully depicts (Dillon, TX), the writers probably felt comfortable with advancing this storyline.

But I'm more curious and interested in how the show will portray the aftermath. Will Becky be ostracized? Will she come to regret her choice, especially after the touching and supportive phone call she got from Luke after she completed her abortion?

How will the writers deal with Luke? How will this impact him? Will he come to resent Becky for terminating their pre-born child? Will he regret that he didn't take more proactive steps toward convincing Becky to keep their child?

And how will Dillon's residents deal with this? Will there be outrage? Will people judge Becky and Luke?

I'm interested in how the writers will resolve the aftermath in subsequent episodes and if they can again deftly portray it in a de-politicized manner that shows rather than tells.