How This ABC Family Show Tackled Late-Term Abortion With Humanity and Grace

Monday nights in my house are my night. After a long day of work I cozy up on the couch and get ready for my favorite TV line up of the week – Switched at Birth followed by The Fosters on ABC Family.

Yes, I said ABC Family, and yes, I’m 29-years-old.

As you would expect many people poke fun at my juvenile taste, but after this week’s episode of The Fosters I’m even more convinced that it is one of the best shows on TV. Maybe by the end of this post you’ll think so, too.

While there are many reasons to love the show (there’s nothing better than a good cry, amiright?) the hit drama, produced by none other than Jennifer Lopez, centers around the lives of Stef and Lena, an interracial lesbian couple, raising five children — four foster children who they have adopted and one who is Stef’s son from a previous marriage.

In this week’s episode, titled “Mother,” Lena who is pregnant with her first biological child develops a life-threatening case of pre-eclampsia which leaves her with a difficult decision: continue with the pregnancy that will put both her life and that of her unborn baby at risk or terminate the 20-week pregnancy of a baby she desperately wanted and already named Francesca (AKA “Frankie”) in memory of Stef’s father who passed away the prior season.

Lena is determined to see the pregnancy through, saying she’ll stay in the hospital and do “whatever it takes.” She says she has faith that the baby will be OK, faith enough for both her and Stef, and that she has seen their baby in a dream and knows it will all work out. As a viewer you too begin to have faith that the impossible will happen, that both Lena and Frankie will survive; after all you’re watching TV where happy endings are more often than not the conclusion. However, in a brave move the show decides to go in another direction.

After a powerful conversation with her mother where she is reminded that she has five other children who need her as a mother, Lena ultimately decides to terminate the pregnancy — a heartbreaking decision that is difficult for the entire family to accept.

Lena’s mother tells her:

Honey to be honest every mother is afraid that our children won’t love us the way we love them and they won’t. Not in the same way. Biology or not that’s the way it’s suppose to be. Mothers and fathers we have to love our children more in order to make the sacrifices to put them first. But one thing is true, love will always be a stronger bond than blood. Trust that and those children out there love you. They need you. They can’t lose you. Their needs trump your wants and that’s what being a real mother is all about.

Crying yet? (Full disclosure I cried again while re-watching the episode to write this post.)

While the pro-life movement wants you to believe that late-term abortions are for women who are irresponsible and selfish, The Fosters provides an incredibly moving example of what thousands of real women face every year. They may not have used the word “abortion”in the episode, instead saying “lost the baby,” but as Erin Gloria Ray of Jezebel points out, “most families who terminate a wanted pregnancy in order to save the life of the mother probably don’t use the word, either.”

While terminating their very much wanted pregnancy was devastating for Lena and Stef, other women’s experiences are far less tragic as New York Magazines feature on 26 women’s abortion stories proved. In face, the majority of abortions take place in the first trimester, and those that happen in later terms are more often than not due to medical complications that threaten the life of the mother and baby like what sadly happened in Lena’s case. After the show’s airing, Planned Parenthood Federation of American released the following statement:

Planned Parenthood applauds The Fosters for shedding light on a very real decision women and their families have to make each day. Abortion is a deeply personal, often complex decision for a woman to make in consultation with her doctor, her family, and her faith. While women should not have to justify their personal medical decisions, the reality is that abortion later in pregnancy is rare and often happens under heartbreaking and tragic circumstances. Opponents of safe and legal abortion have tried to distort that reality and simultaneously shame the women that need to make these decisions.

Honest portrayals about abortion in film and television are extremely rare, and that’s part of a much bigger lack of honest depictions of women’s lives, health, and sexuality. Through popular culture, women get the message early and often that, while they may have the right to get an abortion, there’s something wrong with them if they exercise that right. It’s time to bring stigma about abortion into the light, expose it, and reject it, which The Fosters did this week.

In response to legislation attempts to enact more 20 week bans across the country, Planned Parenthood has also worked to bring real women’s stories about late-term abortions to light to give the issue a human face. Like Christie’s story below:

Christie’s story only has about 1,600 views on YouTube. Millions of fans tune in each week to watch The Fosters. Planned Parenthood is right. We need more “honest portrayals about abortion in film and television” to humanize the issue and create broader understanding of women’s experiences.

This week The Fosters took a brave step in depicting an abortion story line. What show will be brave enough to be next?

Photo Credit: Screenshot from The Fosters

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jan b.
jan b.about a year ago

If women are putting their lives on the line to take an egg and let it develop from a fetus to a human being......shouldn't it be her decision and not some ol-white men in congress or the general public ? According to the researchers, for every 100,000 births in the U.S. last year, about 18.5 women died. No one knows what after-effects remain for women who did live and had pregnancy problems that carried over into her life afterward. But, that doesn’t stack up very well with the mortality rates in other nations. A woman giving birth in America is more than twice as likely to die as a woman in Saudi Arabia or China, and three times as likely to die as a woman in the United Kingdom.

Paola Ballanti
Paola Ballantiabout a year ago


Nils Anders Lunde
Nils Anders Lundeabout a year ago


Jessica G.
Jessica O.about a year ago


Danuta Watola
Danuta Watolaabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

Nyack Clancy
Nyack Clancyabout a year ago

Thank you

Marianne C.
Marianne C.about a year ago

@ Sharon Beth L:

Yes, preeclampsia can sometimes be managed without risk to the life or health of the mother -- especially when it occurs late in pregnancy, say at 36 or 37 weeks. The mother may then be put on bed rest with medication to manage blood pressure and monitoring for any distress in the fetus, with premature delivery often necessary for the safety of both.

However, when preeclampsia begins at 20 weeks, it's a much different story. The pregnancy is definitely in danger, and so is the mother's life. Preeclampsia causes blood vessels to constrict, lowering the flow of blood to the mother's orangs, incluidng brain, kidneys, liver -- and uterus. A lower blood flow to the uterus can result is low levels of amniotic fluid, fetal growth impairment, and developmental problems that will result in severe birth defects even if the pregnancy can be sustained to viability.

When preeclampsia begins before 20 weeks, it;s almost always because something is already terribly amiss with the pregnancy. It may even be a molar pregnancy, which is certainly not going to result in a baby or even a fetus, but which may kill the mother.

Just because preeclampsia can be managed in late pregnancy is no reason to ignore the very real and deadly dangers of preeclampsia mid-way through a pregnancy, and worse, early than the half-way point.

Janis K.
Janis K.about a year ago

Thanks for sharing.

Anna Wang
Anna Meng Wangabout a year ago


Maria Teresa Schollhorn
Maria Teresa Schollhornabout a year ago

Thanks for sharing.