‘Parenthood’s’ Unintended Pro-Life Treatment Of Pregnancy

‘Parenthood’s’ Unintended Pro-Life Treatment Of Pregnancy

Abortion is often considered a third rail in politics and media. But NBC’s show ‘Parenthood’ courageously explored pregnancy and its effects.
Bethany Mandel
By

This month, after six seasons on air, NBC’s “Parenthood” came to an end. The show has seen its share of life-and-death moments, of marriages, divorces, and separations as it chronicled the lives of four siblings. One of these characters, Sarah, a single mother to two teenagers, saw both her son and daughter experience unintended pregnancies over the course of the show. How each of her children handled the pregnancies was unexpectedly—though, one suspects, unintentionally—pro-life.

Fathers: The Hidden Half of Parenthood

The first of Sarah’s children to face an unintended pregnancy was her son, Drew, and his high-school girlfriend, Amy. To Drew’s credit, he in no way pressures Amy to have an abortion, instead telling her he would support her financially if she chose to continue with the pregnancy. He tells Amy an abortion “is not the only option… We could start a life. I could go to college, get a job.” It’s clear that Drew supports Amy’s decision regardless of what she chooses, but at every mention of abortion, Drew appears apprehensive, instead offering alternatives to the life-ending procedure.

At every mention of abortion, Drew appears apprehensive, instead offering alternatives to the life-ending procedure.

Amy is less conflicted. She steadfastly refuses to entertain the possibility of continuing the pregnancy, and the stress of the pregnancy and subsequent abortion eventually leads to the couple’s breakup. After Amy chooses to end the pregnancy, we see how the death of his child has devastated Drew, who at the end of the episode tells his mother about it, collapsing in tears. The psychological impact of abortion is rarely discussed in public, let alone the impact on the psyche of the father. Despite being one of the baby’s two parents, Drew was stripped of his right to have a say in the future of his own child.

Presumably this powerlessness, on top of the loss of his first child, leads to Drew’s breakdown into his mother’s arms. But it’s a rare look at an aspect of abortion that is often twice concealed by American culture and news media: first, the tragedy of life lost, and second, the perspective of a father helpless to stop the procedure that takes the life of his unborn child.

In the following season, we see how the abortion has emotionally scarred Amy, as well. She runs away from college on the East Coast back into Drew’s arms. Amy basically quits school, moving in with Drew into his cramped dorm room, puttering around his campus aimlessly, to the understandable chagrin of Drew’s roommate. While the abortion is never directly blamed for her depressive behavior, the show appears to assign the abortion its share of blame for Amy’s emotional state. After Drew asks Amy why she fled Tufts University, she tells him, “I started to feel alone. Like, scary alone… The one thing that got me out of that scary alone place was you… You’re kind of all I have.”

Later in the season, it becomes clear that Drew thinks her behavior is directly linked to the abortion and the events of the year prior. While he never addresses the abortion directly, it’s clear he blames it for her depression. Several episodes later Drew tells Amy, “Everything that happened last year… Did you ever talk to anyone about that? All we had was each other and you ran off. We never even talked about it. I ended up talking to my mom… It was so helpful. It just feels so good to talk to someone… You should talk to your parents.”

A Mother Chooses to Carry Her Pregnancy to Term

The last season of the show sees the pregnancy of Drew’s twenty-something single sister, Amber. Despite Vox’s cheerleading for Amber to waltz into a Planned Parenthood because having a baby would be so darn illogical, a sonogram saves the unborn child. Amber decides, despite the absence of her child’s father, to carry the pregnancy to term. A doctor assures Amber she has a choice (as if she had been previously unaware of this choice, living in Berkeley), Amber never appears to seriously consider ending the pregnancy. She spends the rest of the season waddling around, as pregnant women are known to do, and to their credit, the tight-knit family rallies around the single mother, celebrating her pregnancy with a baby shower, hugs, and happy tears.

Even on ‘Parenthood,’ the word ‘abortion’ is never actually used; characters discuss ‘taking care of it’—the ‘it’ being a defenseless human life.

Abortion is often considered a third-rail topic for our politics and, thanks to the overly politicized entertainment industry, Hollywood and the media handle it by treading carefully along the accepted orthodoxy. Even on “Parenthood,” the word is never actually used; characters discuss “taking care of it”—the “it” being a defenseless human life. Given how far Left the show and its creators are, it’s been a pleasant surprise to see the topic handled with such honesty.

Abortion is not an easy solution for the parents of the child aborted, nor does it come without significant emotional scarring. The power of the ultrasound cannot be discounted, as evidenced by Amber’s decision to carry her pregnancy to term, despite earning just minimum wage, signing on for a difficult, but ultimately a hopefully fulfilling, life as a single mother. These days, it seems downright revolutionary when a show allows the father to break the one-dimensional mold in which popular culture so often keeps him trapped.

Bethany Mandel is a stay-at-home mother of three children under four and a writer on politics and culture. She is a senior contributor to The Federalist, a columnist for the Jewish Daily Forward, and a contributor at Acculturated. She lives with her husband, Seth, in New Jersey. You can follow her on Twitter @BethanyShondark.

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