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Research project

Abortion Onscreen

At ANSIRH, we are interested in not only abortion as a healthcare and policy issue, but also in how it operates in cultural conversations and narratives. American film and television—the screen—is one place where cultural stories about abortion play out. Abortion Onscreen is a research program aimed at investigating these stories and understanding their effects on broader social understandings of abortion.

To date, our Onscreen program has:

ANSIRH's Abortion Onscreen research program examines how the portrayal of abortion in film and television affects the broader social understandings of abortion

  • completed a census of all fictional American television shows and films, from early silent films in 1916 to the present, and identified the dramatic overrepresentation of abortion mortality in onscreen depictions;
  • investigated the impact of viewing the film After Tiller, a documentary about later abortion, and found that viewers expressed markedly high support for the legality of third-trimester procedures when compared to the general public;
  • analyzed characters seeking and obtaining abortion on television, finding evidence that these characters are, in aggregate, younger, whiter, of high socioeconomic status, and less likely to be parenting than their real life counterparts;
  • analyzed the onscreen portrayals of abortion providers and examined how abortion access and barriers to abortion care are depicted on television (findings forthcoming).

Additionally, we are always tracking the most recent onscreen depictions of abortion, and providing current analysis and commentary.

Our work in the Abortion Onscreen program is ongoing. With continued support, we are planning future research to include analysis of the health and safety outcomes for onscreen abortion procedures; examination of how abortion functions as a storytelling point (or trope) within different programs; analysis of scripted movies and television shows with antiabortion messaging as tactics of the antiabortion movement; and deeper consideration of the interactive relationship between media portrayals, historical moments, and the political and social climate around abortion in the United States.

This research has been featured in The Washington Post, NPR, KQED, Slate, Jezebel, Bitch Magazine, and many other media outlets.

Support for Abortion Onscreen projects comes from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. We are seeking additional funding for this program.

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ANSIRH is a program within the UCSF Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health and is a part of UCSF's Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences.

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