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Regardless of how you feel about the moral merits of abortion, there is this fact: it is a legal procedure, and the most common surgical procedure for women after cataract surgery. 1 out of 3 women in the United States will have an abortion by the time they are 45 years old. And yet, every time a character in a movie or TV show finds herself with an unwanted pregnancy, we almost always see one of three things happen: she has the baby and decides to keep it, she has the baby and decides to give it up for adoption, or some other natural event-- miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, bizarre accident-- ends the pregnancy without anyone ever saying the word "abortion."
This unspoken taboo is especially prevalent on television, where showrunners have to appeal to both broad audiences and any younger viewers who might still be awake at 8 or 9 p.m. But not on Grey's Anatomy, a show that even in its 8th season, well after its peak of cultural importance, is not afraid to push boundaries. On last week's episode Sandra Oh's character Cristina decided to have an abortion, and even with all the crazy surgeries and medical oddities the show has depicted over the years, it was the first time any major character on the show had made that choice.
Vulture talked to showrunner Shonda Rimes about the decision for Cristina to have the abortion, and Rimes revealed they had considered an abortion storyline for Cristina back in Season One, when she had an ectopic pregnancy instead. In the below quote Rimes admits that, even with the storyline in very early stages, she was hearing a lot of concern from the network and Standards and Practices:
That was my intention: Cristina finds out she’s pregnant, she’s gonna have an abortion. We had it all laid out. I knew what was gonna happen and I had some very strong conversations with Broadcast Standard and Practices back then about the topic. And nobody told me I couldn’t do it, everyone just had very strong opinions about it. And then I went into the writers’ room and somebody pitched what would then be the medical reality of Cristina having the ectopic pregnancy and collapsing in the O.R. and that’s how Burke finds out that she’s pregnant. That was so much more interesting to me, story-wise, that I let go of what we were going to do and did that. But I do remember it was going to be a battle. I was perfectly willing to face the battle, maybe naively so, but it was gonna be a conversation. A big one.
This time around, Rimes says plainly that she didn't have to ask anybody before proceeding with the abortion storyline, and though she admits it might have raised some hackles, "it seems fairly quiet around my house." The entire interview with Vulture is well worth reading-- even if her shows are kind of silly, Rimes is very smart and well-spoken about the complicated business of television. Rimes is on the board of Planned Parenthood, Los Angeles, so her political cards are pretty much on the table, but she also seems deliberately naive about the fact that her abortion storyline is fairly unusual. After all, it's television-- you can push the envelope, but you want everyone to gather back around the TV again next week too.