I love zombies. I love my uterus. I love choosing things. On Sunday’s episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead everything I love came together in a zombie-fied, uterus-centric, choice-y storyline about emergency contraception. And subsequently put me at odds with another of my favorite things: my fellow pro-choicers.
On Sunday’s episode, the protagonist’s wife, Lori—dubbed “the first lady” of the band of Georgian zombie apocalypse survivors led by angsty Sheriff Rick Grimes—was reeling from the discovery that she’s pregnant. Zombie knocked-up-alypse!
You can’t blame Lori for freaking out. Her pre-teen son had only recently escaped death after an accidental shooting and was seeing the world in the sort of morbid way that only a kid who has seen a lot of human-on-human chewing can. She’s collapsing under the pressure of being married to the Kermit the Frog of a twisted Muppet Show of zombie-fleeing misfits. She is living in a world without safety, medical care, security, or peace. As Amanda Marcotte writes on Slate, Lori ”understandably fears for her own safety, since giving birth in a ditch without medical assistance is associated with a high maternal mortality rate.” So when Lori asks someone to run to town and steal something from the pharmacy, we wonder if she’s looking for prenatal vitamins or a suicide helper.
What she gets is a handful of boxes awkwardly and unbelievably labeled “The Morning-After Pill.”
I sat bolt upright when she opened the bag. “That won’t even work!” I shrieked at my husband in the voice I usually reserve for unfair oustings on The Sing-Off. As everyone who cares about giving women accurate medical information knows, the so-called “morning-after pill” is not an abortion. Emergency contraception or EC does NOT induce an abortion. Period (no pun intended). It’s a dose of levonorgestrel, taken to suppress ovulation and potentially prevent implantation. There is a course of medication (mifepristone) that can be administered to induce a non-surgical abortion, and you can’t just waltz in and demand it of your neighborhood pharmacist. You can discuss the option with your physician.
But because Lori is imaginary and I was sort of hoping a zombie was going to appear and gnaw on someone, I let it go. Then Lori jammed several packages of EC down her throat, had the requisite TV-I’m-not-Maude reaction, and went to puke it all up. When her husband discovered the packages, he confronted her, wounded that she hadn’t told him she was pregnant and, quote, upset she thought he’d force her to have a baby she didn’t want.
And I say fair play to The Walking Dead for this plot turn. Some of my fellow pro-choice bloggers elsewhere are pissed off at The Walking Dead for piling on to the public conflation of EC with the abortion pill. I don’t think Lori thought she was doing a sure thing. I think she’s living in a zombie wasteland and was desperate. What I saw when she actually took the pills was a parable: what happens to a woman without the medical advice, freedom, and resources she needs to see the light in a desperate hour? She does or ingests anything she thinks will damage her body enough to kill herself or terminate her pregnancy.
The Walking Dead EC eye-rollers are assuming that the writers don’t know or don’t care what’s accurate. While I don’t think the writers were trying to make a social statement about lady bits, I do think they thought, “What would an otherwise reasonable woman do? Try to overdose on something.” Find me a pregnant teenager who lives in one of the states where they have all but outlawed abortion (or made it prohibitive by travel, cost, waiting periods, consent laws, etc.)…I don’t care if she took AP Biology. If she was terrified enough, she’d swallow Ricola if she thought the herbs would trigger a miscarriage.
If Dead‘s Lori had swallowed a dozen morning-after pills and then miscarried? Then I’d join you in chiding AMC. If you want to ask why the answer to, “Is abortion the right choice for me?” is always a resounding, “Noooooo, but I caaaaaaaaaaaaaan’t!” on TV, then we can yell. But why are we wasting the opportunity to point to The Walking Dead EC episode and say, “Absent options and information, people do silly and potentially toxic things?”
And why are we looking past Lori’s husband, explaining to her that he would never force her to have a child she didn’t want? Sure, it’s a bit paternalistic and goofy (hello, White Knight Sheriff) but it’s a show about zombies for heaven’s sake. But it also might be revolutionary. From Glee to The Secret Life of the American Teenager, pop culture is overflowing with boyfriends and husbands and baby daddies going from zero-to-MYCHILDTOOOOOOOOOOOO. Rick Grimes made uter-US into uter-YOU and that’s pretty rare on TV, folks.
For some people, the abortion debate becomes very private—even secretive—after they have their own children. Now that I’m a mother, though, I take the preservation of open and honest debate even more seriously, for the sake of my daughter.
But you know what I take most seriously of all? People insulting my favorite TV show. And in the end, isn’t that something to which we can all relate?