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Sept 2004

Abortion issue on popular TV show

Dina Kok
The Interim

Controversy surrounded a decision by Viacom-owned cable channel N when it refused to air two episodes of Degrassi: The Next Generation because of its plot about teen preganancy and abortion.

The two-part show entitled Accidents Will Happen, revolved around Manny, a 14-year-old character played by Cassie Steele, as she finds out that she is preganant and is faced with the options of carrying the baby to full term or have an abortion. She decides to go through with the abortion, and is quoted on the show saying to a friend, "I'm just trying to do the right thing here. For me. For everyone, I guess."

The controversy was sparked after the show aired in Canada on CTV. N, which broadcasts Degrassi in the United States, decided not to schedule the two-part episode. In response to the delay, a petition was circulated which called the cable channel "unjust and asinine." The petition argued that fans deserved to see the whole season of Degrassi unaltered and uninterrupted.

"This episode does not contain any forceful opinions regarding this subject," the petition said. "By taking these actions, we feel as a whole that you are dismissing a substantial part of this season's plot." The petition had 6,000 signatures.

In addition to the petition, hoards of newspapers and news websites reported on the controversy - CBC News, the Toronto Star, New York Times, London Free Press, and National Post, just to name a few.

In a New York Times article entitled "Television's most persistent taboo," Kate Aurthur compared Degrassi to other teen shows such as Dawson's Creek, Beverly Hills 90210, and The O.C. "On TV," she said, "most women and girls who contemplate an abortion make up their minds, often at the last minute, that they're keeping their babies, even if if they happen to get as far as a clinic or doctor's office." Arthur added: "Manny is the very rare character who actually has (an abortion); what's even more rare is that she doesn't regret it afterward."

But is the issue of abortion really taboo? Gillian Long, director of Campaign Life Coalition Youth, commented" "People don't want to think about abortion. I think most people accept that it is there, they just don't want it pushed in their faces."

Degrassi executive producer Linda Schuyler defended the show: "If (children) are talking about it in the schoolyard, we should be able to talk about it on television." She continued: "I am hopeful that (the N channel) will find a way, as with these other controversial subjects, to put it on the air, that will be acceptable for their audience."

In the past, N has strived to present controversial issues in responsible ways to its targeted audience of 12- to 16-year-olds, delaying previous episodes of Degrassi: The Next Generation that have dealt with issues of date rape and drug use. Eventually, the shows aired, but only after N created special introductions explaining the context and issues portrayed in the episodes. In addition, panel discussions were held following the airing of the episodes and online parental guides were designed to aid parents through discussion of the topics.

When asked if Degrassi: The Next Generation was pushing an agenda and trying to support abortion, Gillian Long commented, "There appears to be an agenda to normalize abortion in the public mind and to sanitize it." Concerning the method in which the writers presented the issue, Long said, "They are not giving the whole picture. The producers are presenting abortion as a positive thing. They are not disclosing all the negative things that women who have had abortions suffer. For this issue to be presented responsibly to youth, the whole picture must be painted."

As for Canadian viewers, CTV showed no reticence with the subject matter, airing the show twice - once in January and again in June.




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