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On 'Friday Night Lights,' a brave and honest abortion story

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Against this backdrop, the straightforward way "Friday Night Lights" portrays teenage sex, pregnancy and abortion is unusual -- and brave.

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Becky's truth-telling episode is titled "I Can't." That's searingly accurate once you know the character's backstory: Her bartender single mother was about her age when she gave birth to Becky, who is struggling to break the pattern of poverty and powerlessness in her world of West Texas hurt.

The real-life version of Dillon was more than just where I raised my family. Odessa was where my growing understanding of the complexity of childbearing decisions came full circle. I loved my children more than anything, but I came to realize that I would have been a much better parent if I'd waited 10 or 20 years to have them. I was capable of tending to their physical needs, but it takes maturity to care for children's emotional needs.

Odessa is also where I started my 30-year career with Planned Parenthood, as executive director of the city's fledgling affiliate in 1974. And it was there that I began to realize that if a woman can't own her body, including whether and when to give it over to childbearing, she has no power to determine anything else about her life. The stories I heard from women there, and in the decades since, about some of the most difficult decisions they'd ever have to make, are all but absent from our culture.

Becky's story doesn't end with her choice to terminate her pregnancy. Before making her decision, she sought advice from a local principal, Tami Taylor (a central character played by the Emmy-nominated Connie Britton). Tami counseled her, according to protocol, about adoption and support services for pregnant teens. When Becky asked about "not having the baby," Tami said, "I can direct you to literature" about that option.

I knew right then she'd have hell to pay, and indeed, she becomes embroiled in controversy over her role in the teenager's decision. Becky's choice turns into a town-wide crusade: Margaret Cafferty, the preacher's wife whose football star son, Luke, impregnated Becky, tries to persuade the school board to fire Tami. Tami wins that round, but stay tuned for next season: I bet we haven't seen the last of Margaret, or of this story.

Until then, I want to hug the necks of everyone associated with "Friday Night Lights" for being courageous enough to tell it like it is. I hope they win all four of the Emmys they were nominated for this month. By telling Becky's story, they empower women and girls who have struggled and made their best, most moral decisions despite difficult circumstances.

This isn't just a television show. Media portrayals, real or fictional, don't merely inform us -- they form us. And they miss the profound truth of women's lives when they reduce broad issues such as sexual and childbearing choices to one word -- abortion -- and reduce abortion to a polarized, black-and-white debate. In the fictional Dillon, as in the very real Odessa, abortion is most honestly and accurately discussed within the context of an individual story, whether mine, Becky's or yours.

gloria@gloriafeldt.com

Gloria Feldt is the author of "No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power," forthcoming in October, and a former president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.


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