Review of MTV Canada Show “Impact: Abortion Stories”

11 Apr

Last night, MTV Canada aired a half-hour special called “Impact: Abortion Stories.” So I watched it.

I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, although I was certainly wary of a network that expends entire series (and countless hours of specials) on teen motherhood and one half-hour on abortion (and nothing at all on adoption, as far as I can tell). Certainly the show was aimed at teens, and so I was bracing myself for a certain amount of drama and sensationalism.

The format of the show was in seven segments of a young person talking into the camera about their experience with abortion (or pregnancy or activism), interspersed with footage of protests (both pro-choice and anti-abortion) and myths and facts about abortion.

Let’s start with the myths, because that was the best feature of the show, and the deciding factor in my decision that this was, indeed, a pro-choice special. They presented five myths and quickly debunked them using simple, clear language. If the show had just been this, it would have been a great teaching tool for teens – good for sex ed classes, if we were ever that progressive. The myths they chose to include were: abortion causes breast cancer; only young women/teenagers have abortions; post-abortion syndrome exists; abortion affects future fertility; and outlawing abortion will reduce the number of abortions.

The rest of the show involved seven young people talking about their experiences, over a horrendous, soap opera-style backing track. Each of them probably got about two minutes of screen time, so you would think they would want to maximize the number of women actually talking about abortion. But of the seven people involved, only four had actually had abortions – one had decided to parent (even though, as mentioned previously, there are numerous shows on this network alone about teen parenting), one was an anti-choice activist (WTF?) and one was a man whose girlfriend had an abortion.

The inclusion of the man was the most troubling for me. I do realize that men can experience a lot of pain around abortion, and certainly this man was hurting. But for a half hour special, you need to pick and choose. Let’s talk about men and abortion, sure; but let’s make sure women’s voices are heard first. And I would have loved to have heard from this man’s ex-girlfriend, the one who had the abortion. According to him, she didn’t want him to go with her to the appointment. There seemed to be a lot more going on there than he was telling. And then when his next girlfriend became pregnant, HE decided that HE couldn’t  bear to go through that again, so he told her “we are having this child no matter what.” So they did. Presenting this story in the same sympathetic light as the five young  women’s stories was an idiotic and alienating move on MTV’s part. I wanted to throw something at the television. What is the matter with this guy?? And why are we privileging his story over either of the young women he was  involved with (because yes, the woman who had a child with him also broke up with him)?

The four women who had abortions were all fascinating. They seemed bright and articulate, and talked about the complicated emotions surrounding their decision. One described the experience of being in the waiting room with fifteen other women all looking down at their feet, not talking. She was the only one crying, and that was when she wondered if her decision was the right one. Another young woman talked about how  the doctor made her call her mother and  tell her what she was doing. All four spoke of being judged and alienated by friends, family and classmates.

The young woman who had chosen parenting was, in my opinion, a totally unnecessary inclusion. She had some cloying things to say about babies, and some maudlin anti-choice crap about “another heart that will never beat,” etc ad nauseam. But her closing statements about supporting and respecting women no matter what their decision rang true. “Maybe people should just be more loving and caring, and try to talk to those people without judgment” she says over the ending credits.

I don’t even understand why they included the anti-choice activist at all. She was clearly an idiot, for starters. When describing why she became an anti-abortion activist, she said she saw one of those mangled fetus pictures when she was thirteen and it really affected her. Well lady, you’re not thirteen any more, so maybe it’s time to re-evaluate.

In the end I have to give the special a thumbs down, mostly for the ambiguity of it. I think it was supposed to be pro-choice but it was muddled, as though MTV was trying to present a morally neutral stance but figured out half-way through production that it wasn’t possible. I would have liked to have seen some women of color represented, and maybe if the three people who hadn’t actually had abortions had been cut, we could have heard more of substance from the women who had. I think the message about cutting through stigma by talking about abortion is a good one, and needs to be more clearly emphasized. We can only hope that some young women have seen this special and feel a little bit less alone with their decisions.


16 Responses to “Review of MTV Canada Show “Impact: Abortion Stories””

  1. nicole April 11, 2011 at 12:51 pm #

    Hi there! I just wanted to say thank you for watching. I was one of the young women in the show (the one who was forced to tell her mother about her decision). I admit that I myself have not yet tuned in, but I can still agree with a lot of the things you said. I’m sure your critique was right on. I was told the pro lifer had the most camera time and its just disapointing to me that a show about abortion turned out to be more focused parenting. I guess I will just have to watch and find out for myself

  2. Kira-Lynn April 11, 2011 at 1:41 pm #

    I agree with your assessment.
    I watched the show too with the same uncertainty and similar reactions, though overall I would give it a favourable evaluation, b ecause I found the myth-busting made it pro-choice.
    I will add though that MTV’s Teen Mom show (spin off of 16 and Pregnant) *does* feature at least one adoption story. They follow the couple over the whole season.
    (I think they are the only teen couple or one of the only ones to stay together)

  3. Katie Stack April 11, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

    Is there a way for those of us in the United States to watch this?

    @Nicole- I haven’t seen the show, but I can already tell you that you’re so brave for participating in it! I was a part of MTV’s abortion show No Easy Decision. I would be interested in talking to you if you would be open to it. You can contact me at

  4. wrb April 12, 2011 at 9:47 pm #

    Im disappointed at your review of this show, why is it everyone who thinks they are entitled to an opinion, have to use it to nitpick at everything they see. Given, I havent seen this show, but, I will, I am curious as to what your problem is with them showing every angle, I think that sound like it was their aim, not necessarily to be pro-choice, but to invoke thought. And what difference would it really have made whether it had colored people in it? Not that I would have had any issue whatsoever with their inclusion, but Im doubting that someone of color, or of an ethnic background (like myself) would have decided to give more truth to the whole show, had their been someone of her background on the show.

    But, most troubling for me, is your issue with there being a man on the show. My girlfriend had an abortion, and it was a decision we came to after much deliberation, and the decision has effected me ever since. So, what part of his inclusion really bothers you? I think its important to show that, the abortion affects both partners, as the child would be half his as well. I wholeheartedly support the right for a woman to choose, but I get annoyed when I read things written by women as closed minded as the people who oppose abortion.

  5. Erin Hale April 21, 2011 at 12:32 pm #

    “…she said she saw one of those mangled fetus pictures when she was thirteen and it really affected her. Well lady, you’re not thirteen any more, so maybe it’s time to re-evaluate.”

    Dear Lord. Do you consider it some sort of badge of maturity to not be sickened and disturbed by pics of mangled fetuses?

    I think it’s pretty much a badge of a mangled conscience if it DOESN’T upset you.

  6. Steven April 21, 2011 at 9:22 pm #

    I saw the show and I thought I should throw my hat in the arena, as I believe I have the answer to the abortion debate. It is a different view of pro-choice and pro-life, but it agrees and disagrees with some major points in their stances.

    Basically the third answer is that consciousness arises in a human fetus when science says so. Since consciousness is life, then science should tell us when life begins by telling us when we start to remember and when we start to use our brain to make choices. When that happens, it is alive. Once it is alive, you cannot kill a human, unless you believe it is okay to kill people, which I don’t.

    Kinda wierd that consciousness happens at the 24th-28th week in the gestation period, which means all abortions are morale, as all abortions are done before the 20th week in the gestation period. So you are not killing a human fetus, as it is not alive.

    Can I have my hat back now?

  7. Steph L April 22, 2011 at 4:00 pm #

    @Erin Hale

    I come from a family of doctors and it must run in my blood since I’m rarely put off by grusome pictures of that sort (probably why I was drawn to study forensics). But I’d be willing to bet you don’t much care to look at removed appendixes or other inner organs. All medical removals tend to have an “ick” factor and thats normal. The issue with anti fetus pictures is how they tend to lie about the gestational age, use photos of stillborn or miscarried fetuses or even use flat out fake ones a lot of the time. Don’t buy into everthing you see so easily.

  8. Peggy April 22, 2011 at 4:06 pm #

    @ Erin No that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that while it is maybe acceptable for a 13-year-old to base their view of an issue on that, it is a mark of maturity to form an opinion based on more than deliberately provocative images. It’s like if I decided to be opposed to open heart surgery because I was grossed out by pictures of it.

  9. Peggy April 22, 2011 at 4:11 pm #

    @ wrb – If you can’t see the difference it makes to be diverse and inclusive (especially when dealing with an issue that disproportionately affects women of colour) then I’m not going to be the one to explain it to you. Educate yourself.

    If they wanted to show “both sides”, why not include a pro-choice activist instead of JUST a pro-life one?

    In terms of why I object to the inclusion of a man – did you read my review? Maybe just have another look through to where I explained my objection.

  10. Erin Hale April 23, 2011 at 8:40 am #

    @Peggy & Steph L:

    I have to disagree. Seeing a picture of an aborted or miscarried fetus is not like seeing open-heart surgery or an excised appendix…they may be “gross,” but the viewer understands that these are healing procedures designed to restore the body to healthy function.

    Seeing an aborted/miscarried fetus is more like seeing pictures of a death camp or a crime scene–one can’t help but connect to the humanity of the creature and mourn its demise.

    Steph L–I would like to see a citation for your assertion that pro-lifers are using “fake” pictures? Where did you hear such a thing?

  11. Peggy April 24, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

    Ok, but you see how that is an emotional reaction? There is no context to those pictures, no citations, no real story. Emotion is fine, but it’s not the only thing on which mature grown people base their worldviews. If I saw a picture of a dead kitten, I would be really sad, but I would probably do a little more research/thinking/follow-up before I decided that obviously the world is full of horrible kitten murderers who are making millions of dollars and are probably also immoral sluts.

    Also, I think if people are going to go around flashing “dead fetus” pictures and using them to threaten, harass and slander abortion providers, the onus is on the people with the pictures to prove their veracity.

  12. Erin Hale April 25, 2011 at 1:33 pm #


    Three brief points:

    1. I am not sure that the the pro-life activist you are referring to DID make her decision solely on the basis of the “dead fetus” pictures. Probably since then, she has done a great deal of research and knows more about the issues. Maybe the dead fetius pic were just what triggered her to explore the issue further. However, I have not seen this MTV special or whatever, so I will refrain from trying to defend her further.

    2. Regarding your talk of context & stories: The problem is, once you accept the reality of objective evil, “contexts” and “real stories” become irrelevant.

    If abortion is objectively a grave evil, the “reasons” behind it are irrelevant to the discussion of whether or not it should allowed (having said that, the reasons ARE relevent for pro-choicers who want to help women in crisis, of course).

    For example–The dictator Pol Pot wanted to created a lovely agrarian socialist utopia, so, he had to knock off one fifth of the Cambodian population to “cleanse” his country and start from scratch. Does that “context” make his genocide any more palatable to you? Of course not. Sure, the socialist utopia sounds pretty nifty to me, but you can’t go around slaughtering people. It just isn’t done.

    Likewise, abortion is not morally acceptable because a woman became pregnant through rape, or is really super-poor and can’t afford another child, or will be abandoned by her husband if she continues her pregnancy.*

    The ends never justify the means.

    I would guess you are probably someone who doesn’t accept that there is objective evil in the world?

    3. Also, why would someone use “dead fetus” pics to harass and threaten abortion providers? Since they’re the ones who do abortions, they’ve seen it all before and shouldn’t be in the least bit bothered by them.

    If I wanted to piss off an oncologist, I wouldn’t do so by throwing pictures of tumors at them.

    *If woman’s life is genuinely threatened by continuing a pregnancy–that MAY be a reason for abortion. I haven’t thought through that one yet.

  13. Peggy April 25, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    You’re right, I don’t accept the concept of objective evil. Thus your argument is not valid (in my opinion). Also, comparing abortion to genocide is offensive and not super original.

    For a first hand look at how anti-abortion folks use their “fetus” pictures to harass abortion providers (as well as other clinic staff, and patients) just go to any regularly picketed abortion clinic.

  14. Steph L April 27, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

    @Erin Hale

    Its another advantage of coming from a family of people who actually have medical knowledge. One of my uncles pointed out several flaws in their so called abortion photos – they could tell the gestational age in a lot of photos was innacurate. Plus he pointed out the black marks on limbs and other body parts in various photos. That is necrotic tissue, which would only be seen on an already dead fetus removed by a D&C.

    Here’s a source for you:

  15. breklyn November 5, 2013 at 1:18 am #

    Hi there just wondering if the girls on this telling their stories were well compensated? Were you paid or was it voluntary?


  1. Anti-Choice is Anti-Awesome: Weekly Reader - November 26, 2012

    […] for an avalanche of links!First, I have written three pieces for Abortion Gang: Anti-Social JusticeReview of MTV Canada Show "Impact: Abortion Stories"A Pro-Choice Canadian Voter's GuideHere are some stories that have been happening:Barbara Kay […]

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