‘The Fosters’ Takes on Late-Term Abortion: That Happened


ColumnABC Family’s “The Fosters” tackles late-term abortion—and gets it right.

A recent episode of “The Fosters” featuring a character getting a late-term abortion has me rethinking my regular viewing habits—unless “Stick It”,  the classic Missy Peregrym/Jeff Bridges movie about a non-conformist gymnast is on, you’ll rarely find me watching ABC Family.

In case you’re not up to date with ABC Family’s show, “The Fosters“, here’s a little background. First: J-Lo is the producer. Second: The central characters are an interracial lesbian couple (Lena and Stef), Stef’s biological son from a previous marriage and several foster children.

In this episode, Lena is 20 weeks pregnant and dreaming about her new baby. She gets sick and ends up in the hospital where she learns she is suffering from pre-eclampsia and could die if she continues the pregnancy. Because Lena has been pregnant only 20 weeks, an early delivery isn’t possible.

Despite what anti-choice groups want you to believe, this is a very realistic picture of why a woman would need a late-term abortion. Notably, only about 1 percent of women who have abortions have one after 20 weeks.

Lena wasn’t in bed thinking, “You know, I thought I wanted a baby, but I have changed my mind. I wish I had thought this through.” And because this is “The Fosters” and not “Grey’s Anatomy”, the drama wasn’t that the baby was going to be born without a brain or that Lena would die in 30 seconds without an abortion—the drama was that this is a very real, very sad, situation that a family had to face.

As Erin Gloria Ryan points out, on “The Fosters”, nobody actually uses the word “abortion;” they stick to “lost the baby.” She makes a great point in writing that most families who terminate a wanted pregnancy do so in order to save the life of the mother probably don’t use the word, either.

And it’s true. How we talk about pregnancy is directly related to how we feel about being pregnant. If a friend of mine is pregnant and excited about it, I am not going to ask, “What are you going to name the fetus once it’s a baby?” While scientifically that makes sense to me if I stop to think about it, that’s not how humans think and that would never come out of my mouth. And if someone I love has to have an unwanted abortion, my instinct would be to say, “I’m so sorry you lost the baby,” not “I’m so sorry about your abortion.”

The words “abortion” and “choice” are so totally tied together in our society that it would be cruel to refer to ending a wanted pregnancy as an abortion, even if the medical procedure is the same. While Lena on “The Fosters”, and women every day, are forced to take this option, I can’t believe it really feels like much of a choice.

I can hear the profanity-laced, poorly-spelled tweets coming at me now: “If you think abortion is cruel, why are you for it?” I don’t think abortion is cruel. I think anti-choice groups have won the linguistic battle and put a hateful spin on a word that describes a medical procedure. So, we as a culture, have adapted our language.

I am pro-choice because pregnancy is personal. The language we use to talk about pregnancy and abortion—sometimes different with friends than when speaking about our legal rights—reflects that and our laws should, too.

It would be easy to applaud “The Fosters”, but then pause to criticize the writers’ choice to leave out the word abortion, and point out that despite the lesbians and stuff, this is still ABC Family. But I think it was a deliberate, and wise, choice to make a point about why late-term abortions need to be legal and accessible.

Women who need late-term abortions don’t need a legal battle on top of the emotional one, they don’t need laws that would force them to endure a waiting period, or to cross state or county lines for access to a life-saving procedure. They need to be relieved of worrying about legality so they are free to handle emotions that no sweeping legislation can possibly understand.

That Happened is Libby Lowe’s weekly column for EcoSalon analyzing media, news and pop culture through a feminist lens. Keep in touch with Libby @LibbyLowe.

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Image: ABC Family