Abortion on the Battlestar

14 Jan

Spoiler Alert if you watch Battlestar Galactica (BSG) this talks about scenes up to the end of the 2nd season.

My boyfriend has me watching BSG with him and up until now, I’ve really enjoyed it. BSG is about a war between humans and their machine creations, the Cylons. In the first Cylon War, the cylons effectively gained independence from their human creators. The humans in question are members of the 12 colonies, named after the 12 star signs (Caprica, Gemina, etc), each with their own planet in the same star system. In the show, Earth is talked about in the scriptures but nobody is sure it actually exists. Decades after the first Cylon War, the cylons attack humans and set of nuclear bombs on each of the 12 planets, wiping out all but 50,000 humans who escape on a fleet of star ships. The Fleet, lead by the Battlestar Galactica, begins running from a persistent cylon attack.

We are at the end of the second season and the topic of abortion came up. Basically, a young woman was a stowaway onto the Galactica because she needed an abortion. She was from Gemina, a religious faction of the Colony where abortion was illegal and women/children [from the dialogue I couldn’t be sure if it was just women, are all children] are property of their parents. The President had fought her entire career for women’s rights and it was pointed out to her that if the current situation continued with the number of deaths and low birth rate, in 18 years the human race would be extinct. She then makes an announcement and makes it a criminal offence to interfere with the birth of a child. Effectively she makes abortion illegal. You can tell as she is making the announcement that she is very torn by this decision but in the end she decides that the survivability of the human race is more important than personal rights. Women become incubators and that is their only value.

It was at this point that I walked away. I really enjoy BSG but this episode and current path of the show really upset me. I fight constantly for pro-choice ideals and this show has some amazing feminist characters (a number of women in high-powered positions, including the president and for a time, an Admiral), which is part of the reason why I love it. But at the same time, I have a really hard time continuing to watch it with this current direction. I almost feel as if I continue to watch BSG, I am doing so in direct opposition of my activism. I feel as if I can’t be truly pro-choice if I watch an anti-choice show. Now as my boyfriend points out, I didn’t finish the episode and didn’t wait for this to play out. I suppose I have to assume that if the writers/producers/etc. write such strong female characters, they are unlikely to write a blatantly anti-choice show.

I have since returned to watch it. The Vice-President announces his intention to run for president in the upcoming election on a pro-abortion stance. It’s totally a political move and after the episode the topic doesn’t come up again. Still, I found the episode very bothersome.

Abortion comes up from time to time in TV and often the character seeking the abortion steers away from it for one reason or another. I know many of us have complaints that abortion rarely actually occurs on TV. In BSG the topic came up twice: once in the context of forcing an enemy woman to abort (never happened) and second this woman. She was allowed to abort because it occurred before the law change, but we just hear about it after the fact. I do appreciate that there was dialogue on the abortion issue. The leader of Gemina is clearly opposed and she (I told you there were a lot of strong female characters) fights with the President about abortion. I will be interested to see if it is ever raised again.

All in all, I highly recommend BSG. The President is a woman, going from Education Minister to President when she becomes the highest-ranking minister alive after the attack. The Admiral of the Pegasus is a woman and is the highest-ranking military officer. The top pilot of the Battlestar Galactica (military ship the show is named for) is a woman. These are the first 3 that come to mind but there are many more. This would be one of the best feminist shows in modern times in my opinion, which makes how the issue of abortion is handled that much more important.

How do you approach TV shows and movies that are in direct opposition of your pro-choice beliefs? Do you watch them?

3 Responses to “Abortion on the Battlestar”

  1. Renee January 14, 2011 at 4:23 pm #

    Funny this should come up now because I too am watching BSG for the very first time (my housemate loves it, and insisted I watch it…right now I’m in the third season and am heavily invested).

    This is something I run into all the time. I’m a huge horror movie fan, and while horror movies are often unique in their ability to present strong female protagonists, there’s no shortage of misogyny either. It’s not just violence against women either (although that is the largest portion of it), but also sexual violence, women using sex as violence (if I never see another set of weaponized genitalia, I’ll be a happy camper), rape, and all sorts of other stuff.

    Basically, it comes down to this for me: The characters in a movie or television show do not have to come to the same conclusions I do, so long as the topic is handled with a sense of tragedy. Which is to say, the characters in the show may do one thing, but the audience comes away with a sense of empathy for the exact opposite. In fact, sometimes the *best* way to get your point across is to show the emotional turmoil created by doing the wrong thing.

    Getting back to BSG, I felt like they did an okay job of handling that. I think an uninvested person would watch that episode and come away with the feeling that somehow, wrong prevailed. I do, however, wish they would revisit the topic…and maybe they will, although I doubt it. I was okay with that one episode, but it’s a big enough topic it deserves more exploration, and it fits in perfectly with their overarching themes of fascism, crumbling egalitarianism, and religious vs political ideology.

    [spoiler alert…if you haven’t started the 3rd season don’t read this]

    On a related note, I’m almost more frustrated by their 3rd season choice to have Starbuck’s maternal instincts kick in. We don’t often get to see strong female action heroes on television, or in film. Most of the time – like with Lost – men get to do all the cool stuff, while women are stuck playing mothers and wives, and nothing else. I knew it was going to happen eventually in BSG – the “rebirth” theme is too powerful not to address reproduction in a variety of different ways – but I was really hoping they’d let Starbuck stick to her guns…kickass without a maternal bone in her body.

  2. Dee January 15, 2011 at 9:08 am #

    Whoa, whoa, whoa! As a huge BSG fan (and regular reader of this blog), I feel I have to step in to defend my show. I’ve gotten all my friends on the BSG train. 🙂

    First of all, as you’ve stated, BSG is full of complex, accomplished women. Not only are they strong, both physically and mentally, but they all have character arcs full of pain, struggle, and resilience, just like male characters on most shows. I hate it when female characters are presented as perfect, to the point where they have zero depth. On BSG, the women are as strong as they are flawed, and I find them to be some of the most complex women I’ve ever seen on any medium.

    Now, onto the abortion issue. One of the themes the show is concerned with is reproduction. Not only biological reproduction, but artificial, as well. The Cylons are obsessed with increasing their numbers, and they do so by building copies of themselves, but their holy grail is to be able to reproduce biologically. Not only is biological reproduction more cost effective now that supplies are limited, but it would also allow them to achieve unique DNA, which they have not been able to master. The Cylons are also super-religious monotheists, unlike the human characters, who are polytheists. Religion is another huge theme in the show, and as an atheist, I find it a fascinating clash of cultures that mirrors our own society.

    Now, as I’ve stated, the humans are polytheists, but most of the colonies have moved past fundamental religion, and they lead very progressive lives. The main colony is Caprica (which is the focus of the spinoff of that name), and it’s like the NYC of its universe. There are, however, two hardcore religious colonies, the most religious being Geminon. On Geminon, they reject women’s rights, including abortion. This is important, because just as the show is about the clash between two races of very different “peoples”, it is also about the clash within the human race itself. The people onboard the Galactica are just as prone to extinction due to their own infighting as they are due to Cylon attacks.

    So, Laura Roslin finds herself in charge of these colonies of people who have a million things to fight about, even if you remove the Cylons. She is informed that the humans will die out due to their own numbers, and it becomes (for her) a practical and political win to ban abortion. It is important to note the fact that because Roslin bans abortion, this does not mean the show or its writers are antichoice. I think they’re writing a very true narrative about what would happen if the human race were decimated. I would support choice to the very end, perhaps they would, too, but I firmly believe that if an attack left us down to 50,000 people, the first thing to go would be choice. In this sense, I feel the writers are being very realistic about this dystopian future. To tell the truth, I was surprised that it took two seasons for the humans to arrive at this disgusting decision.

    Anyhoo, the show Battlestar Galactica is about the awful, heinous things that people do to each other. Through the course of the show, you will see things like rape, kidnapping, suicide bombings, sabotage, murder, etc. The biggest threat to humanity’s survival is humanity itself, and the elimination of women’s rights is just one of the tools used to oppress a people. This is why I don’t think that BSG the show celebrates the absence of choice. Rather, they are presenting it as one of the many ways that people oppress each other. The fact that one of the main characters is responsible for this awful law is what makes BSG one of my top two favorite shows. In other shows, you see “bad guys” and “enemies” hurt the heroes. On BSG, it’s the “heroes” that do awful things. It is one of the most accurate portraits of the human race that I’ve seen.

  3. Bubba April 8, 2011 at 10:13 pm #

    I appreciate your comments about BSG and the handling of the abortion issue. First of all, I’d just like to echo that I don’t feel as though the writers of the show are trying to push a pro-life message. I actually think the show is trying to be timely and bring up issues that have direct bearing on real life. Abortion is not the only one; episodes deal with torture, occupation, military violence against civilians, prisons. I think the show strives for a level of complexity that other programs eschew. It seems to me that the writers of BSG are trying to think critically about issues that would come up (and have come up) in times of extreme crisis.

    I also echo the comments about the character complexity. As you said, we have several strong women characters, but they often do things that I find morally reprehensible, such as torture prisoners of war, ban abortion, force a mother to give up her child, etc. And they all contemplate and deal with those decisions differently.

    It seems to me that BSG wants its viewers to confront timely issues and actually elicits responses from viewers when characters do things that appear morally questionable.

    That said I am pro-choice and I love the show. Though I do think it is flawed and you bring up good critiques.

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