Skip to main site content.

Young, white, wealthy

TV shows misrepresent U.S. women having abortions

By WITW Staff on December 21, 2015

TV characters thinking about or going through with abortions do not accurately represent the demographics of women in the U.S. dealing with the same decisions, according to a new study out of the University of California, San Francisco. Of course, it’s not shocking that television doesn’t always represent real life, but as UCSF research sociologist Gretchen Sisson told KQED, abortion is stigmatized and “very few people have a context for the reality of abortion care…so these fictional stories that happen on-screen can have greater power to influence perceptions of what that care looks like in real life.”

Researchers studied all U.S. television shows from 2005-2014 depicting abortion. The pool included programming from traditional networks as well as the likes of Netflix, Showtime and other distributors.

In the sample, close to 90 percent of women obtaining abortions were white, most were not already parents, and they chose the procedure for what Sisson calls “self-focused” reasons like preventing interruptions to their careers or educations. A third of the women depicted were in their twenties.

In reality, 36 percent of American women obtaining abortions are white, about 30 percent are black, and close to 25 percent are Latino. Sixty percent are already parents and cite reasons for the procedure like not being able to afford additional children. About 60 percent of American women having abortions are in their twenties.

A future study will analyze the impact these depictions may have on audiences.

Read the full story at NPR.