Gilmore Girls Should've Talked About Abortion
Rory's Planned Parenthood Poster Shouldn't Be Doing All The Heavy Lifting
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A little note before we begin: I’m sorry but I just couldn’t write a business-as-usual recap after Roe v. Wade got overturned. Reproductive health policy is a big part of my professional world and, you know, my life as a person of reproductive age, so instead I wrote about this. We’ll be back on our recap bullshit eventually, but right now, we gotta process SCOTUS’. TYSM, we love you! —Megan
Gilmore Girls Never Talked About Abortion. It Should Have.
When Roe v. Wade was overturned, my professional life blew up. I’m a reproductive health policy reporter when I’m not writing about Gilmore Girls, and I was on my way from Canada to a family reunion in New England when I got the news. I fielded emails from editors and dialed into a press call with abortion rights organizations from my family’s rental car. I tweeted links to stories I’d written months ago in anticipation of this moment.
“Megan gets to choose where we go for brunch,” said my mom. “Because she’s a woman of reproductive age and Roe v. Wade just got overturned.” My parents waited in line for our table while I rewrote a story lede on my phone on a quiet, leafy street in Montreal. When I got back to the table, my parents had ordered me a foamy latte. The sun was shining. I ordered avocado toast in a Parisian accent that immediately made the waitress switch to English. I wanted to stay in Canada.
In small-town New Hampshire later that day, we pulled off the interstate and my parents bought me bourbon in a liquor store. We would drink it on porches in the evenings to come. I shared the devastation my sources described feeling at the news. I ranted with a cousin, also a journalist, and who now sat stricken in a brightly-painted rocking chair on a creaky porch, wondering what the fuck had just happened.
We were together for a celebration of family on my paternal grandmother’s side, at a family resort on a lake, all white clapboard and dark green shutters, the WASP answer to Kellerman’s in Dirty Dancing, which of course is also a story about abortion, and the synchronicity was almost too much to handle. Despite my ballet training, I did not fall in love with a hot dance instructor, I’m sorry to report.
Instead, I found myself thinking about Gilmore Girls, because New England is where I feel my WASPy roots most acutely, where I suddenly recall my taste for gin and wearing sundresses with no makeup, where there is a dress code for dinner, where I sense once more the spiritual truth of high WASPdom that Amy Sherman-Palladino managed to capture on Gilmore Girls—if not the particulars of it. (The Yale stuff is real; in my family, it’s Harvard and Brown. The uniformed household staff is not.) I relate to both Lorelai and Rory in this regard: While I’m at home in New England, I grew up on the West Coast and find the concepts of “participating in golf” and “eating dinner before 7 pm” vaguely distressing.
In this churn of personal history and political disarray, I found myself wishing that Gilmore Girls had included an abortion storyline. And why didn’t it? After all, Lorelai got pregnant with Rory in the post-Roe ’80s, and chose to give birth and parent her child, but then lived in fear that Rory would also get pregnant as a teenager, as if abortion and birth control didn’t exist in their world.
And before 1973, it didn’t—at least not in the way we presume it still does in states like Washington, where Maggie and I live. Before abortion was legalized nationally, women in families like the Gilmores would travel to have abortions. Wealthy white women have always had access to abortion this way, and someone of Emily’s generation and social status probably would’ve gone to a state like New York for treatment, or even a different country. What if some of Emily’s intense need for control stemmed from this history? What if it had happened to someone she knew at Smith? What if it had happened to her? What if coming of age in absolute existential terror of getting pregnant, with the knowledge that it could derail her life, informed her disappointment and anger when Lorelai herself got pregnant at 16, and derailed the life Emily had planned for her daughter, one freer than her own?
What if Rory got an IUD when she started sleeping with Logan? What if Paris took her to her appointment because Rory was so anxious the doctor gave her valium and she wasn’t allowed to drive herself home? What if, back at Yale, Rory called her mom from the couch over an array of takeout with a bad, diverting movie on the communal TV, and Lorelai said: “Great, I love this for you! Better brush up on Donna Haraway; you’re a cyborg now!”
What if Rory became an IUD evangelist and Lane bought in and got a ParaGard (I feel like Lane wouldn’t be into hormones) before her honeymoon, and maybe the first time she had sex it was still kind of a disaster, but at least she didn’t get pregnant with twins before she was ready to become a parent.
What if Jackson and Sookie could have a real conversation about shared responsibility for birth control, and he went ahead and got that vasectomy and she went with Nexplanon, because both of these methods have a failure rate, and it takes all kinds, and sometimes you want to make people feel weird about the implanted little stick in your arm, not that I speak from experience.
What if, instead of acting like you’d know you were pregnant THE DAY AFTER having unprotected sex based on a sudden craving for fruit, Lorelai acted like an adult and waited for her missed period and took a pregnancy test, and actually told her partner that maybe she would like to avoid that scenario going forward.
What if, after Amy Sherman-Palladino subjected us to those five final words in the Netflix revival, Rory could’ve had an abortion, if she wanted one?
I bring up these possibilities because I think they show us the limits of Gilmore Girls’ feminism. While nominally a show about two women, both of reproductive age, who create their own feminist-informed corner of the world, where men are peripheral and there is nothing teenage girls can’t do, Gilmore Girls was profoundly shortsighted about things that actually affect people with the capacity to get pregnant. Rory has a Planned Parenthood poster in her dorm room at Yale, but that’s pretty much the closest we get to any real discussion of bodily autonomy. When someone gets pregnant on Gilmore Girls, they stay pregnant. When someone has sex, we are assured they were “careful.” I assume you can get birth control at the town pharmacy, but we never see anyone actually doing this. The one reference to birth control in season four is so oblique — it’s the “raincoats” in “Raincoats and Recipes” — you might miss it altogether.
For a show about women talking, this is weird.
By the time I hit my thirties, I’d been on five different types of birth control, and I talked about it CONSTANTLY with my friends. Friends shared their abortion stories with me, because abortion is something young people talk about, especially when you’re broke and in your twenties and a pregnancy actually feels like one of the worst, most terrifying things that could possibly happen to you, because it is.
And it’s not like other shows didn’t broach these topics. Maude featured an abortion storyline in 1972. The West Wing addressed abortion in an episode from 2004. Murphy Brown, which premiered in 1988, included a storyline about an unintended pregnancy and single parenthood. On My So-Called Life, Claire Danes’ Angela Chase described her very real fears around having sex for the first time, and showrunner Winnie Holtzman has said that she would’ve written an unintended pregnancy into the show if it had been renewed for a second season. And god bless Moesha and her birth control pills!
Gilmore Girls’ lack of imagination around abortion and birth control is just that. It’s narrative laziness that reads in hindsight as stubbornly puritanical and out-of-step with the show’s implied values of female independence and insistence that the inner lives of a mother and daughter could fill an entire series. If Gilmore Girls had had abortion and birth control storylines, it could’ve normalized both for its audience. It also would’ve risked alienating viewers and advertisers, but as I get up the gumption to rewatch season six, IDK, would that really have been so bad? If Gilmore Girls had been cancelled for being too real about birth control and abortion, it would’ve added to its legend. It would’ve been a better show. If only!
But it’s almost as if the show just didn’t want to talk about it. And that’s something you might expect of Richard and Emily, but for Rory and Lorelai, it just doesn’t fit.
And I have to tell you, even in the land of high WASPdom, of tennis- and golf-related mandatory fun and 5 pm gin and tonics and unseasoned food in tiny portions and parallel reading and lake swims as social practice: We may not talk about everything, but we talk about abortion. My grandparents may have been a bit like Richard and Emily, but they were also Planned Parenthood supporters. When the news about Roe came, I had never been so relieved to be with my family.
And pulling over on the side of a New England two-lane highway to pick up rage-bourbon after an anti-feminist decision comes down?
Tell me that isn’t something Lorelai and Rory would do.
I just wish we’d gotten to see it.
Gilmore Women is a weekly newsletter from journalists Maggie Mertens and Megan Burbank examining everything that’s wrong with Gilmore Girls. All of our weekly episode issues are free, but paid subscribers get special BONUS newsletters — like our most recent, from Thulasi Seshan on the electoral politics of Stars Hollow.
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