Television plot lines greatly exaggerate the medical and psychological risks associated with having an abortion
Risk of complications and mortality is much greater on television than in real life
San Francisco – A new study from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) that examines television portrayals of the health consequences of abortion finds that major complications are represented much more frequently on TV than in real life.
Among the abortion plot lines studied, 42.5 percent include a complication, intervention, or major health consequence, with five percent resulting in death. In real life, complications, which are usually minor, occur in only 2.1 percent of all abortions. The real morality rate for abortion is incredibly low, at just 0.00073% nationwide.
Researchers from Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH), a reproductive health research organization based at UCSF, identified 80 television plot lines from 2005 to 2016 in which a character obtains an abortion. Their analysis, published in the journal Contraception, finds that abortion complications on TV are often extreme and life-threatening and lead to adverse consequences, including infertility, depression, and death. These plot lines sharply contrast with real life, where such outcomes are extremely rare. This research is part of ANSIRH’s Abortion Onscreen program, which studies portrayals of abortion in American film and television and their effects on broader social understandings of abortion.
“Fictional television portrayals have the potential to influence understandings of abortion. Our findings show that medical and psychological risks of abortion are greatly exaggerated on TV, which could lead people to believe falsely that it is dangerous for women,” said Gretchen Sisson, Ph.D., a sociologist at UCSF and the publication’s author. “Such misinformation might build support for existing policies that restrict access to abortion and those being considered at the federal level and in many states.”
According to the study, portrayals of dangerous abortions often take place in illegal settings. However, complications from abortion on TV are exaggerated for both illegal and legal abortions compared to real life.
For more information on accessing a copy of the study, “’I was close to death!: abortion medical risk on American television, 2005 – 2016,’” to interview Dr. Sisson, or to learn more about ANSIRH’s Abortion Onscreen program, contact Jason Harless at firstname.lastname@example.org or 510-986-8963.
Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH), based at the University of California, San Francisco, conducts rigorous scientific research on complex issues related to reproductive health in the United States and internationally. ANSIRH provides much-needed evidence into active policy debates and legal battles around reproductive health issues. Please visit www.ansirh.org.