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Grey's Anatomy: Breaking the Silence on Abortion

Louise Melling,
Deputy Legal Director and Director of Ruth Bader Ginsburg Center for Liberty,
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September 27, 2011

Thank you to Grey’s Anatomy for daring to speak the A-word (abortion) in its two hour season premiere. In the episode, skilled hospital resident Cristina Yang (played by Sandra Oh) declares, in the clearest of terms, that she does not want to be a mother; she does not want children; she wants her career as a surgeon; and she wants to have an abortion.

Today, in 2011, long after abortion has been legalized, long after discrimination against women in many arenas became illegal, long after calls to end gender stereotyping, the Grey’s Anatomy episode is — sadly — radical stuff.

In it, the word abortion could be spoken. A woman could want one. And perhaps most remarkable, a woman could want a life without children. We don’t today, as a culture, send the message that that’s okay.

We at the ACLU, can and do, challenge the laws that further restrict and stigmatize abortion — laws that require women seeking abortions to go to an anti-abortion group for counseling; laws that stigmatize abortion by banning it from insurance plans; and laws that punish charitable organizations like domestic violence shelters for even referring for abortion services.

Through our efforts we hope to change restrictive and unconstitutional abortion laws, and that is important. But we also need to change the culture. Grey’s Anatomy may provide an opening.

Today, when it comes to abortion, women are judged, not heard. There is little room in the debate for our dreams and our needs — our need to care for existing children, our dream of the life we could give our child, our goal to finish school, a need to repair a marriage. There is no room for our visions of our lives. Cristina, on Grey’s Anatomy, opens some space, by giving voice to her needs and hopes.

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