It’s a common trope in recent popular culture that whenever a character finds themselves with an unwanted pregnancy, the only real choices are between keeping the baby and adoption. In Juno, abortion is considered momentarily but disregarded after being faced with the idea that her fetus may in fact have fingernails. In Knocked Up, the word itself is treated as some sort of unutterable expletive, a winking nod to the firestorm of controversy surrounding the practice. In Glee, abortion isn’t even an issue: Quinn decides on adoption early on. In all of these cases, we are witnessing the awkward dance between acknowledging that abortion is now a legal practice and acknowledging that there are those who believe that abortion is nothing less than taking a life.
For those of us who believe the latter, this state of affairs seems on the face of it to be alright with us. As long as popular culture refuses to take the practice seriously as an option, they are prevented from making any flippant or trivial arguments in its’ favor. The truth of the matter, though, is that abortion doesn’t need arguments in its’ favor. For those who find themselves or their significant other pregnant against their will, the option of abortion when separated from its’ inherent cultural and moral stigma is virtually magical. Like sex itself, abortion doesn’t need popular culture’s support because in an age where reversing a pregnancy is possible, it seems like the only logical choice.
This is why it’s such a brave and crucial thing for Friday Night Lights to commit to addressing the subject without a blatant agenda and without leaving out any crucial steps along the way. When Becky finds herself pregnant with a football player’s baby, she finds herself at a loss as to any other way to handle the situation. Her boyfriend, while good-natured and caring, is relatively passive when it comes to the decision. They both know not to challenge what their culture tells them: that this decision is purely the woman’s decision, and no man – even the father – has the right to any input.
Implicit in the episode is the unsettling truth that Becky’s mom is anxious for her to go through with the abortion out of experience: if Becky had never been born, it would have been better for her mom. This only serves to complicate the already complex decision Becky is trying to make. Interestingly, it’s her mom’s “pro-choice” values that seem to be pushed on her during this critical time of decision making. When a doctor appears to merely be sharing some important information about what abortion is, and Becky seems to be interested, her mother sees it as most pro-choice advocates would: a pointless result of a brutally political law. As her mom rails against the doctor, all Becky knows is that her mom must really want her to go through with this abortion.
The most heartbreaking moment of the episode is when Becky goes to visit Coach Taylor’s wife for some advice. She visits them not because she knows them and trusts them, but because she has no where else to go. It’s clear Becky would like to go through with the pregnancy. She speculates on how she would defy all odds and make the baby feel loved and cared for – exactly the things she is not. But she simply doesn’t see a way to make it happen. She tells Tami Taylor what she believes to be the inevitable truth, through tears: “I can’t take care of a baby.”
Obviously, if abortion is what we say it is, this is hardly a good excuse for going through with it. On the other hand, it does draw attention to one of the key reasons many scared teenagers do seek out an abortion: they feel totally and utterly alone. Becky has been failed by her family, her community, and her friends. Of all the people who are faced with this predicament, none of them says to her, “If you do want to have this baby, we will help you.”
…until it’s too late. When her boyfriend calls and says that he is willing to make it work, that he’ll do anything within his power to make it work, and makes an actual appealing case for raising a child, all she’s able to say is that she “took care of it.” If this were a lesser show, the emotions on display would be relief, but this is Friday Night Lights, and they know that regret is inevitable here. For a while, at least, those two teenagers will be dwelling on what could have been, and what’s been lost.
What this, the first realistic and honest look at the issue I’ve seen on television, demonstrates is that in a culture where abortion is far off from being inaccessible or illegal, it becomes even more inevitable in the face of what is for many teenagers an utter lack of community and companionship. In every town or city, there are countless girls who are starved for the love and affection that a boyfriend will give them, but who lack the guidance of a good parent. What our culture lacks in connectedness and shared community, Christians can make up for, simply by making ourselves available.