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Planned Parenthood Responds to Jodie Foster's Inaccurate 'Black Mirror' Abortion Episode

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image Owen Teague in 'Black Mirror' Netflix

If nothing else, you can count on Netflix’s Black Mirror to be provocative. But in its fourth season, the show treads some dangerous ground in an episode about contraception and abortion.

The season’s third episode, “Arkangel,” written by showrunner Charlie Brooker and directed by Jodie Foster, centers on overprotective mother Marie (Rosemarie DeWitt) and her teenage daughter, Sara (Brenna Harding). Sara is frustrated with her family’s lonely lifestyle, so she begins to rebel by, among other things, having sex. This being Black Mirror , there is of course a horrifying tech twist—Marie had a surveillance device installed in her daughter’s head and watches as Sara goes to bed with her childhood crush. The next thing we see is Marie angrily walking into a drugstore to buy a mystery item; a scene later she crushes up a single pill—Plan B, or “the morning-after pill”—into Sara's morning smoothie.

Sara has no idea that her mother has done any of this, of course, so she’s concerned when she vomits at school. She sees the school nurse, who tells her, "it was the EC pill that made you sick." When Sara balks, the nurse clarifies, saying the phrase "emergency contraception." Perplexingly, the nurse adds—and here's where the episode goes wrong—the pill’s purpose is "terminating your pregnancy."

Let’s be clear: Plan B is contraception, not abortion-in-a-tablet (though there are quite a few politicians in office who have confused the two). If you’re pregnant before taking Plan B, the pill can't and doesn't reverse that. The “morning-after pill” does one of three things: stops the release of an egg from an ovary, prevents the fertilization of an egg (by stopping sperm), or prevents a fertilized egg from becoming embedded in the uterine wall. T here is an “abortion pill," but it works very differently: it detaches the single-cell embryo (the result of a fertilized egg) from the uterine wall with one chemical and empties the uterus with another.

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Marie watches as a clinician injects the "arkangel" implant into her daughter. Netflix

In other words, no school nurse worth her job would ever tell a teenage girl that she "terminated a pregnancy" with Plan B—unless  “Arkangel” is set in a near-future hellscape where women's health services and nursing programs are run by Todd Akin, Mitt Romney, or President Trump.  

Elizabeth Clark, Planned Parenthood’s Director of Health Media, tells Newsweek that sci-fi can offer “smart social critiques and insights.” In the case of “Arkangel,” though, Black Mirror let down viewers by conflating Plan B with abortion.

“Film and television have a unique opportunity to portray sexual and reproductive health care in medically accurate and nonjudgmental ways for millions of viewers,” Clark says. “With access to health care and sex education under constant attack, it’s more important than ever for us to see accurate storylines when it comes to contraception, abortion and other sexual health issues.”

debbie wasserman schultz planned parenthood

US Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (C), Democrat of Florida, speaks alongside supporters of Planned Parenthood as they protest the US Senate Republicans' healthcare bill outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, June 27, 2017. Getty Images

In fairness, the point of the episode wasn’t to differentiate between contraception (prevention of pregnancy) and abortion (termination of pregnancy). But treating them interchangeably is wildly irresponsible. Harmful legislation that keeps necessary medical care out of the hands of female patients is based on information mix-ups like the one Brooker makes. And at a time when one in four women has an abortion by age 45, women’s reproductive rights are under assault and millions tune in to Black Mirror , Brooker should have more vigilantly fact-checked his dialogue.

The last thing anyone facing a complicated healthcare procedure needs is to watch a show and experience unfounded fear.

 

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