The Abortion and Reproductive Rights on TV panel at the ATX Television Festival was released online to ATX badge holders earlier today. Degrassi Co-Creator Linda Schuyler participated in the panel, and talked about the different abortion storylines on Degrassi over the years.
Linda explained how her first abortion storyline was back in 1989, and in those days Degrassi was much more focused on education than later incarnations. In contrast to the other panelists who were mainly involved in abortion storylines with adult characters, Linda noted “[Degrassi High] was aimed at teenagers… our show had a double mandate. We were both entertaining and educating.” Because this was before the internet and Degrassi was one of the few places where young people could get information, the twins in Degrassi High were used to show the audience both sides of the abortion debate. In this episode, there were a lot of protesters at the clinic, and it was a very angst-filled decision for the character.
When Manny had an abortion on Degrassi in 2004, things were different because the culture was different. Linda described how Degrassi developed the abortion storyline with input from both the US and Canadian broadcasters. This time, there was a lot less angst. However, Degrassi still showed both points of view with Manny and Emma having differing opinions on the topic. At the end of the episode, “[Manny] had this little smile on her face – not a big one,” Linda explained. “It wasn’t like our previous one with so much angst. She knew she was making the right decision.” However, in 2004 there was a women’s march in Washington, and because of the political climate, the US broadcaster got very nervous and they pulled the episode.
In the most recent abortion storyline in 2017, “[Degrassi’s] whole mandate was to neither sensationalize it, nor trivialize it, but just to normalize it.” This time the abortion happened in the middle of the episode instead of at the end. The show followed Lola inside the clinic, and the audience got to see the doctor talking to her. In the 2nd half of the episode, other students at school found out, and Lola was being shamed for her decision. She ended up owning her choice and making a vlog to share her story. In regards to this abortion storyline, Linda noted that while Netflix was usually very good with not pushing back on storylines, this abortion storyline was the one episode of Degrassi: Next Class that they got the most pushback on from Netflix.
Linda also emphasized the importance of support from broadcasters and networks. “Of all the shows that I’ve done with a number of different broadcasters, it has been the one topic that I’ve had the most pushback on,” she explained. “And it’s exhausting as a producer to keep pushing and keep fighting.”
One of the other panelists was Carina Adly Mackenzie from the series Rosewell, New Mexico. She is a big fan of Degrassi, and expressed how excited she was to be on this panel with Linda. She even recalled illegally downloading “Accidents Will Happen” and told Linda that she owes her $2.99. She also commented that watching Manny’s experience was very impactful because “that was the first time I saw the relief of it,” referencing Manny’s firm decision and lack of regret.
Ultimately, I think this panel demonstrated the importance of telling a diverse range of abortion experiences on television. Unfortunately, this is a topic that is still not shown or discussed very much in the media. If we want to ensure that all people see their experiences represented on screen, we can’t forget the experience of having an abortion. This is something that so many women can relate to, and it’s important for people to know that they are not alone.