I’ll admit it, I am a diehard Sex and the City fan. The show isn’t without its limitations and its infuriating moments, and it’s certainly not perfect. But when it hits particular topics, it hits them so aptly that I am left almost speechless. Its treatment of pregnancy decision-making in Episode 59 (Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda) is one such moment—rendered all the more noteworthy for the fact that it seems to be easier for a TV show to go through the eye of a needle than to deal with pregnancy decision-making in an honest, forthright, and realistic manner—all the while maintaining a light touch.
For those with a less encyclopedic knowledge of the show’s various plot lines (ahem), there’s a summary available here. In short: Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), in her late thirties, has unprotected sex with Steve (her ex) and then finds out that she is pregnant. Meanwhile, Charlotte (Kristin Davis)—who has recently quit her job to lead a more domestic life that will soon focus on being a mom (she presumes)—is desperately trying to get pregnant by her husband of less than a year, with little success. Miranda reveals her predicament—and her initial decision to have an abortion—in a conversation wherein Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) reveals that she had an abortion at the age of 22, and Samantha (Kim Catrall) reveals that she has had two. Although Carrie and Samantha support Miranda’s desire to have an abortion, Charlotte is stricken by the fact that Miranda has become pregnant by accident without even wanting a child.
Many conversations, conflicts, and reflections ensue, but at the end of the episode, Miranda decides at the last moment to continue her pregnancy. It’s a complex episode, and it touches on many of the classic issues that women confront when faced with pregnancy decisions:
- a lack of providers who will perform abortions (Miranda’s doctor informs her that she “doesn’t do the procedure,” then quickly says “no judgment”),
- agita over how to involve the man in the decision (Carrie initially supports Miranda’s decision to keep the pregnancy a secret from Steve, but reconsiders later after she reveals Miranda’s situation in confidence to her boyfriend and Steve’s friend, Aidan),
- doubts about whether there will ever be a right time to have a baby (particularly for women in their late thirties, as Miranda is),
- fears about telling current partners about previous abortions (Carrie initially lies to Aidan about having had an abortion, then later reveals the truth), and
- doubts over previous decisions (as she accompanies Miranda through her decision, Carrie begins to wonder about her own decision to have an abortion after a one-night stand that happened over a decade earlier).
Would that all entertainment media were willing to deal with pregnancy in so much complexity (instead of writing only about wanted babies and magical miscarriages)—or were even willing to include the word “abortion” in their scripts, which this episode does several times, in its great tradition of dialogue that reflects the way people actually talk to each other.
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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What I love about the episode is that it deals with all the topics surrounding this complex issue in a way that reflects how real, live women actually confront them: with conflict, doubt, stress, infuriation, strength, humor, honesty, and solidarity. What it affirms, in the end, is that pregnancy decisions may be made in highly political, stigmatized environments, but that they are personal decisions—different from woman to woman, and different for each woman at each point in her life.
Miranda ultimately decides to continue her pregnancy—although she is not sure what will happen, her instincts tell her that is the right decision. Carrie ultimately realizes that what her instincts told her to do when she was 22—to have an abortion without any involvement from the man who got her pregnant—was the right decision for her both then and now. Throughout, the episode refuses to shy away from the real struggles that women go through when they make decisions, no matter how straightforward those decisions might appear from the outside. Miranda and her friends know exactly what is at stake, yet no one pushes her to make any particular decision. Instead, they challenge and support her to make the decision that is best for her, and their trust allows her to trust herself.
My favorite moment, however, comes at the end: after a difficult conversation with Carrie in the waiting room, Miranda goes into the doctor’s office, ready to have the abortion. In the next scene, we see Miranda sitting on a couch with Carrie and Samantha around her. Charlotte—whose discovery that she only has a 15% chance of conceiving has sent her into a fury about Miranda’s desire to have an abortion—arrives with flowers, ready to support Miranda in her decision to end the pregnancy.
But it turns out that at the last minute, Miranda decided to keep the baby. The four women toast her decision together. And as the episode ends, we are left with the knowledge that they would have supported her no matter what she decided. Why? Because that’s what friends do.