There’s a lot not to like about MTV’s recently-premiered half-hour episode on a teenage girl’s abortion, called “No Easy Decision.”
There’s the fact, as blogger Jill Stanek has pointed out, that for a show that claims it wants to discuss all sides of the issue, pro-life resources and organizations are not represented. Then there’s Exhale, the post-abortion counseling group viewers are directed to – an organization that describes itself as apolitical, yet states up front its belief that “abortion can be a normal part of the reproductive lives of woman and girls.” There’s the gross glossing over of the physical facts of abortion and pregnancy – both the graphic nature of the abortion procedure itself, as well as the developmental stages of the unborn child. Rather, the show is replete with euphemisms, particularly when the teen is speaking with an abortion clinic worker: it is about a “termination,” in which “the pregnancy is removed.” Overall, there is the creeping sense of exploitation as we watch vulnerable teen mother Markai and her boyfriend James grapple with the news of their – second – unexpected pregnancy within the fishbowl confines of 21st-century reality TV.
“The show was dedicated to relaying the impression that the girl is all right, when she clearly isn’t,” writes Kathryn Jean Lopez on Headline Bistro today. Lopez further criticizes MTV’s Dr. Drew Pinsky, who wraps up the show with a panel of teen girls who have undergone abortions. Adoption is barely discussed – it would have hurt too much, the panelists explain, and so that option was quickly dismissed. Pinskey, likewise, frames their abortions as responsible “parenting decisions” while trying to assure Markai – obviously still torn by her decision – that the turmoil she’s experiencing is “normal.”
“Most women two years after they’ve had the procedure believe they’ve made the right decision,” he states.
Of course, “reality” television still follows a script, and the storyline of this latest offering from MTV is no exception. For all it lacks, however, “No Easy Decision” yet offers a searing look at the very real turmoil of emotions surrounding one woman’s path to abortion – an all-too-real scenario that repeats itself hundreds of thousands of times over in the United States every year, and one that pro-lifers can never take for granted. Watching Markai’s story is to behold the tragedy of society trying with all its might to normalize the killing of an unborn child – even as the teen mother’s instincts recoil in protest. It’s to witness how our culture deludes itself into thinking of the child not “as ten fingers and ten toes with a forehead and all that stuff,” as Markai rationalizes, repeating the advice given her by the abortion workers. “Because if you think of it like that, you’re going to make yourself depressed.”
Rather, she says, “Think of it as what it is: a little ball of cells.”
And yet, gems of truth still emerge from this young woman’s mouth. Right after repeating the abortion clinic’s pitiful script about “a little ball of cells,” she looks across the table at her infant daughter Zakaria happily sitting next to James, and breaks down.
“A thing can turn out just like that,” she cries, pointing at her living baby. “Nothing but a bunch of cells can turn out to be her.”
Before the abortion, Markai’s maternal feelings toward her child are clearly evident. “I’m in love with this baby already,” she tells a friend, “and this is baby is doing nothing but making me sick.”
“We made a decision,” she tells James, avoiding his eyes. “But…it…like, I wonder if we could’ve made a better one.”
During the panel, Pinskey tells Markai that many would vilify her and her decision to abort.
Lopez responds that “vilification” is rather due to the abortion industry and its sympathizers on MTV.
“‘No Easy Decision,’ besides an affirmation of the ‘responsible’ decision that abortion can be when birth control fails, was an affirmation of selfishness and a rejection of sacrifice and its transformational power,” she writes. “It’s only natural to fear the emotional pain of giving up a child. But no discussion? That hurts, so we won’t go there. And so we promote the quick fix and numb the pain with delusion.
Yet “No Easy Decision” is also an affirmation of what we’ve witnessed to be true about abortion: that it introduces a new, foreboding undercurrent of tension between the would-be parents; that it does not leave the father unscarred; and that – despite all attempts to normalize the experience – it leaves in its wake a young woman confused, mourning and forever changed.
It’s a completely straw-man argument that, as MTV’s perhaps-not-too-subtle agenda implies, pro-lifers are to be faulted for a supposedly dismissive attitude toward the conditions that lead many women to abort.
Every year, pro-lifers converge in Washington, D.C., to march in support of the dignity of life; they can be found praying in front of abortion clinics and fighting in the halls of power to protect the lives of the unborn. But they’re also on the frontlines serving in pregnancy resource centers across the country, dealing face-to-face with the harsh realities of poverty and single parenthood. Heart-to-heart, they counsel women in their hopelessness, offering physical, spiritual and emotional support and gently reminding them that abortion is not their only choice.
No genuinely pro-life person can ever state that it is an “easy decision” for a woman to have an abortion. That’s why there are groups like Project Rachel who seek to meet women on the other side of the clinic doors with the message of healing – that “there is hope after abortion.” It’s why there is a network of men reaching out to other fathers who have lost a child in abortion and witnessing to the truth that abortion is not solely a “woman’s issue.”
“No Easy Decision” reveals a culture that cannot name abortion for what it is – the killing of an unborn child – and will go to extraordinary measures to convince vulnerable young women like Markai to think similarly. Yet despite its failings, the show cannot stifle the truth as it comes out of the mouth of the teen mother herself: that abortion will never be “normal.” On that, at least, “No Easy Decision” got it right.
- Elizabeth Hansen