The XX Factor

The Walking Dead Spreads Anti-Choice Misinformation

The producers of "The Walking Dead".
Producer Gregory Nicotero and writer Robert Kirkman speak at AMC’s The Walking Dead Panel during Comic-Con 2011 in San Diego

Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images.

Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead created a massive internal conflict for me. As explained at Jezebel, the episode featured a character who has discovered her pregnancy, and understandably, considering the zombie apocalypse, feels this isn’t the right time to bring a new baby into the world. (She also understandably fears for her own safety, since giving birth in a ditch without medical assistance is associated with a high maternal mortality rate.) So she obtains morning after pills, takes a bunch of them, throws them up, and then, according to TV tradition, decides not to abort because in TV-land, there’s never a good reason to have an abortion. No, not even if it means being ripped limb from limb by zombies.

The problem with this storyline, outside the tedious fear of getting letters from irate anti-choicers that dictates TV’s near-absolute approach to unintended pregnancy, is simple: Morning-after pills are not abortion. You can’t even get abortion pills from a typical pharmacy, since RU-486, the actual abortion pill, is dispensed mainly at doctor’s offices. Morning-after pills are contraception, and they work by stifling ovulation before any sperm can make their way toward the Fallopian tubes. Anti-choicers claim they work by preventing fertilized eggs from implanting, but there is no scientific evidence for this claim, and strong evidence against it. But even if you mistakenly believe this is how emergency contraception works, that still has no bearing on pregnancies that have already begun and show up on pregnancy tests, as portrayed on this show. She might as well have been sucking down candy cigarettes in hopes of causing an abortion.

Thus, my internal conflict. Well, to an extent, an external conflict, since this was debated with my partner, as these things are, out loud during commercial breaks. On one hand, this was outrageous scientific misinformation that serves only to reinforce the notion that morning-after pills are “abortion.” On the other hand, the characters involved in this whole plot are all characterized as ignorant sorts who probably don’t know the first thing about women’s reproductive health care. A lot of ordinary Americans would probably think you could swallow a bunch of morning-after pills and have an abortion, so the plot was realistic in that sense. Then again, there was not any indication whatsoever that the screenwriters were using this as further evidence of how ignorant and unprepared this group of survivors really is. My honest impression is that whoever came up with this plot also mistakenly thinks that morning-after pills are abortion. If they had intended the misinformation to be a comment on the characters’ ignorance, there was no indication of it.

As Erin at Jezebel points out, no matter what the intentions of the writers, what was on screen was simply distracting. It could have been avoided altogether by simply having the character take RU-486 instead of morning-after pills. It’s hard to trust the show’s portrayal of the larger philsophical and emotional issues around such a traumatic pregnancy situation when they can’t even spend five minutes on Google to get the biology right.