12 July 2010

'Friday Night Lights' and Women's Right to Choose

As a fan of the NBC show Friday Night Lights and a fierce supporter of a woman's right to choose, I was thrilled to see an honest and open discussion about abortion on last Friday's episode. The story has been covered by the New York Times, by Gloria Feldt in RH Reality Check, and on NARAL's blog, among others.

The episode highlights one character's unintended pregnancy and decision to get an abortion, in the face of the father's family's righteous indignation and parental notification laws that make it very hard for teens in Texas to get the appropriate information and support. The nuanced depiction of this difficult and often divisive decision was handled with grace and elegance. The result was a breath of fresh air in a major network mediascape filled with apocalyptic, sensationalized or ludicrous discussions surrounding unintended pregnancy and abortion.

However, the repercussions for this character and the characters that help her -- including a principal who offers her information about an abortion clinic and whose job is subsequently threatened -- underscore the ongoing challenges for women facing these decisions and the people that try to help them. Though it's easy to think otherwise given most media depictions of unintended pregnancy, access to abortion remains the legal right of every woman in the US; society must guarantee access to the information that will enable women to make a decision that best fits their life and situation.

The Ms. Foundation is committed to ensuring that these rights remain protected. Our grantee, the Texas Freedom Network, recently issued a report, Just Say Don't Know: Sexuality Education in Texas Public Schools [pdf], that found the state, a big proponent of abstinence-only education, is failing students and families: "Classrooms are perpetuating a 'conspiracy of silence' that robs young people of the reliable information they need to make responsible life decisions. Even worse, the information students do receive about sexuality and health is often grossly distorted or simply wrong."

Sexuality education is at the heart of a responsible conversation about sexuality, reproductive rights, and choice. We hope that with the right education young women will have access to information, support, and honest dialogue from role models and educators. Luckily for the young woman on Friday Night Lights she had access to all three. And luckily for us this show has sparked some much needed conversation about the state of media depictions of unintended pregnancy, state-level abortion policy, and the educator's role in this mix.

Do your part in support of reproductive justice and abortion rights! Donate now and a special matching grant will double your support -- dollar-for-dollar -- for reproductive justice organizations led by women of color. Help the Ms. Foundation ensure that all women have access to the information and support that will allow them to make responsible decisions about their own sexuality. Learn more.

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