In its four season history as a television show, NBC’s Parenthood has addressed issues that are honest, relatable and believable. From addiction to special needs children to infidelity to being a single mother to cancer to infertility issues to adoption to a soldier’s return from Afghanistan and more, Parenthood has not shied away from tough topics. I’ve been impressed with how delicately and thoroughly they’ve addressed most issues. But a couple of weeks ago and leading into this week, I have been deeply disappointed.
During their January 8th episode, “Small Victories,” NBC’s Parenthood attempted the controversial and difficult topics of teen pregnancy and abortion. From the moment Drew is told by his girlfriend Amy that she is pregnant, the viewer was drawn into a major teen crisis. After a visit to the Abortion Clinic, and with anxieties and concerns of both the present and future, Amy tells Drew her decision.
“Well, there’s only one option, right? …If I have this baby, my life is over,” she told him.
“It doesn’t have to be over,” Drew countered. “We could start a life. I can go to college. I can get a job. There are plenty of people who can help us.”
Both Drew and Amy are high school seniors whose their parents and other adult mentors are noticeably un-involved and relatively oblivious to their lives. A high school teacher, who was engaged to Drew’s mom let’s her know he’s concerned about Drew and Amy. Yet when the mom, Sarah, discusses what’s happening with Drew, he passes it off as college anxieties, which she accepts and moves on.
At his insistence he be there for her, Drew drives his Amy to the Abortion Clinic to obtain information and set a date for the procedure. He later confides in his older sister about what’s happening in his life, even asking her for money to help pay for the abortion he doesn’t want his girlfriend to get. She reassures him that everything will be okay, that it’s not entirely his fault and that “it happens.” He shares with her, “I don’t want to give it up, but I’m trying to respect how she feels. It’s just hard…”
Despite his feelings, he accepts money to help his Amy obtain a pregnancy, drives her to the abortion appointment, waits in the waiting room while she has the procedure and drives her home.
At the end of the episode, we see Drew grappling with the emotions of what has just been done, the loss of his child and so much more. And he seeks out his mother for comfort with gut-wrenching emotion. But it is too late.
And that’s how the storyline pretty much ended with the exception of one, small moment in the season finale (I’ll get to that later).
For me, my disappointment with the most recently episodes of NBC’s Parenthood began with the timing of the episode, two weeks before the 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Additionally the title of the episode, “Small Victories” makes me cringe. The name seems like a cruel joke, as if the idea of the “victory” of the death of a small innocent child is positive.
My disappointment in the episode “Small Victories” is related in part to the character Drew, who claimed to want the child, but did little to attempt to keep the baby. Unfortunately, it is a reflection of our society in that many fathers do not believe they have much of a say in whether an abortion happens or not, since it’s “not their body,” Additionally, by law, fathers are excluded from participating in the abortion decision. These two things highlighted a very real concern in our legal system, that as a father, Drew was powerless to delay Amy’s decision, even by a week. And so Drew spends little time discussing with Amy what he truly wants, only addressing it once with her.
Additionally, it was frustrating to see Drew’s character not do what teens should do when they have a difficult situation they are dealing with- talk to a parent and/or a trusted adult. The one time Drew does ask Amy about talking to her parents, she says, “I don’t know. They just like, see me in this certain way.”
This could have been a key teaching moment for the audience of Parenthood, yet they did not take the moment to help teens see there are more options to available to them then just taking care of a crisis, life-altering situation by themselves.
The episode did a good job showing the extreme isolation teens can feel when in a crisis, to the point of not even talking to parents about the situation, and it was positive to see Drew confide in his sister. But despite Drew confiding in his sister, who did comfort him in his turmoil, his sister did little to help him reach his desired goal of keeping the child and instead helped him end the life of his child by providing him with money for the abortion. Yes, Drew was trying to respect what his girlfriend wanted by seeking help for money for the abortion, but ultimately he ended up sacrificing and being disrespectful to one life as a result of trying to be respectful to another.
Another key moment I was appalled at was the portrayal of the abortion clinic, Planned Parenthood. Now, I’ve never been in an abortion myself, yet the seemingly cheery and helpful atmosphere of the clinic was unconvincing in its portrayal of a place that helps and comforts people in times of crisis pregnancy, including pregnant teens.
A clinician (presumably a doctor) sits in a room with the teens: “If you decide to continue the pregnancy we’d be happy to refer for prenatal care. Of course there are resources for teen moms who decide to raise a child. Now adoption is also an option for you to consider….”
As music plays and drowns out the clinician, indicating how overwhelming all the information is to the two teens, the looks on their teens faces says it all. They’re overwhelmed. They’re undecided. They’re too young to be making a decision like this.
Throughout the episode, I did appreciate the show of emotional turmoil related to the overwhelming task of deciding how to proceed and the difficulty of the decision. Teen pregnancy and abortion are difficult topics. Yet they were topics that I’ve dealt with in real life through friends and in ministry, from friends who I found out later had abortions and pregnant teens in ministry. And they are never simple to resolve issues as this episode made it seem.
This simplicity in how to resolve the “problem” of a teen pregnancy is the primary reason why I was concerned with the episode “Small Victories.” It is the true that both teen pregnancy and teen abortion happen. Yet teen pregnancy is not a “problem” with only one solution. And the show has addressed so many difficult topics over the course of its four seasons, and most if not all those topics have spanned over many episodes. And so, before I decided completely how I felt about NBC’s Parenthood addressing the topics of teen pregnancy and abortion, I waited for the next two episodes.
And now I can say I am overwhelmingly disappointed with how cavalierly NBC’s Parenthood addressed the issue of teen pregnancy and abortion overall. In the two episodes that followed “Small Victories,” the topic was only momentarily touched upon in the season finale. The show made it appear as though abortion solved all the teens’ problems and helped them realize they dreams, because as the teens met up and talked on Amy’s porch one night, they shared about their acceptance into their dream colleges. NBC’s Parenthood made it seem that abortion solved all their problems and was able to put them in a nice, clean and neat little box that can be put away on the shelf not to be dealt with again.
What would the Catholic Church say about how the situation was handled by the people in this episode? First, it’s important to note that as Catholics aren’t called to judge anyone, including persons who have had (or allowed) abortions, but recognize wrong in actions.
We’d consider it a moral wrong for Amy to have an abortion, but we’d also consider both Drew and his sister morally in the wrong, because of their participation, by helping another person obtain an abortion. We’d consider his sister morally at fault for the abortion because of the money she gave her brother and because she did nothing to prevent the abortion. But we’d consider Drew even more morally responsible than his sister, because he helped provide money and did nothing to prevent the abortion but actually drove Amy to the abortion appointment.
But even more important than addressing the wrongs would be offering those involved love, forgiveness, mercy and support for all men and women dealing with the after-effects of abortion, which NBC’s Parenthood did not feel it necessary to completely address. Project Rachel, a compassionate and confidential ministry helps woman and men experience spiritual and emotional healing after abortion.
So, I rarely participate in live tweeting an event (well, except for Texas Longhorn sports), but during and after the episode “Small Victories” on NBC’s Parenthood , I couldn’t help but check out what others were saying about the episode. The response, of course, was mixed. But many in the cyber world were also like me, upset with the abortion. Some men shared they too, had an experience like Drew’s character, with a woman obtaining an abortion they did not agree with. The response on blogs and in news hasn’t been overwhelmingly, but as expected those pro-choice advocates are applauding the episode. And those of us pro-life advocates are concerned.
And now you’ve read my thoughts on the episode. What are yours?
See clips the episode, “Small Victories” from NBC’s Parenthood , titled “A Big Problem for Amy and Drew” here: