A Century of Abortion Onscreen, 1916-2016

Gretchen Sisson

The end of 2016 marks the close of a century since the first silent film in the United States addressed abortion. In these past 100 years, film, television, and our popular culture have addressed abortion in evolving ways: from the pre-code films of the 1920s, to the exploitation films of the 1940s, to television plotlines in support of legal abortion in the 1960s, to the alternately stigmatizing and stigma-busting portrayals of the 1990s and early 21st century. The incorporation of abortion into onscreen storylines has been done for shock value, for sex educational purposes, for humor, for drama, and for horror. This presentation is not an exhaustive list of abortion stories in U.S. film and television (there are over 200 of them!), but it is meant to illustrate some of the notable examples, groundbreaking firsts, and trends that have emerged over time.

Click through the photo slideshow to learn more about each film and television show, then click below to see clips in video form.

Where Are My Children? – 1916
The Road to Ruin – 1928
Hays Code – 1930
An American Tragedy – 1931
Street Corner – 1948
Blue Denim – 1959
The Shame of Patty Smith – 1962
The Defenders – 1962
Another World – 1964
Alfie – 1966
Cabaret – 1972
Maude – 1972
The Godfather, Part II – 1974
Fame – 1980
Fast Times at Ridgemont High – 1982
Cagney and Lacey – 1985
Dirty Dancing – 1987
All My Children – 1994
Sex and the City – 2001
Six Feet Under – 2003
Jack and Bobby – 2005
Revolutionary Road – 2008
Friday Night Lights – 2010
October Baby – 2011
Grey’s Anatomy – 2011
American Horror Story – 2011
Private Practice – 2012
The Good Wife – 2013
Call the Midwife – 2013
Obvious Child – 2014
Girls – 2015
Halt and Catch Fire – 2015
Scandal – 2015
Please Like Me – 2015
Being Mary Jane – 2015
BoJack Horseman – 2016
Jane the Virgin – 2016