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The Strange and Extreme ‘Walking Dead’ Abortion Episode

I had high hopes for Season 2 of The Walking Dead, after previews hinted that it would be darker and more character-driven than its predecessor. But although the new episodes, set on an isolated farm of a misguided veterinarian and what’s left of his family, do focus more on Rick Grimes and his ragtag band of zombie apocalypse survivors, the script still hasn’t succeeded in making us care about anyone. The characters still feel like one-dimensional comic-book creations; they haven’t been lifted off the page yet. As a result, it’s too easy to predict how they’ll deal with their moral quandaries: Rick will do the right thing. Shane will do whatever it takes to survive. And Lori will struggle between those two extremes before ultimately choosing light over darkness. She did it earlier this season, when she considered letting her son, Carl, die of his gunshot wound rather than enduring life in a lonely, ravaged, dangerous world, and made a very similar — albeit more politically charged — decision last night. [Spoilers after the jump]

For a few episodes, we’ve known that Lori is pregnant and has been keeping it a secret from everyone but Glenn, who foraged her a pregnancy test from the closest abandoned drug store. Since she is the sole Walking Dead character who doesn’t make personal and potentially moral decisions automatically, Lori has been agonizing over what to do. There appear to be a number of considerations: her health, the ethics of bringing a child into a zombie-packed hellhole of a world, the ethics of abortion, the question of who the kid’s father would turn out to be.

But, if Lori is being honest in her heart-to-heart with Dale about the pregnancy and her affair with Shane, she isn’t worried that he’s planted a Machiavellian, wife-stealing seed in her womb. She has convinced herself that the baby is Rick’s, even if there’s no way to know for sure (in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, writer and executive producer Robert Kirkman calls her resolution “wishful thinking”). And it’s clear she’s not worried enough about her own wellbeing to, say, discreetly mention the issue to the doctor who saved her son’s life. Lori would rather send Glenn back into town to get her as many morning-after pills as he can get his hands on, and swallow about ten of them without telling anyone what she’s done. (Side note: Don’t try this at home, ladies! Taking extra emergency contraception won’t cause an abortion, but might just make you feel horribly sick to your stomach.)

In the end, then, the dilemma becomes a question of ethics. Although Maggie is inexplicably disgusted by the idea that a Lori would rather have an abortion than give birth to a baby who will almost certainly have a horrific life, Glenn tells her that what she does about the pregnancy is her choice — although she should probably make it with her husband. No one seems to think that it’s a purely good idea to avoid the liability of introducing the zombie bait that is a wailing baby into the survivors’ small and paranoid society.

The episode wraps with Lori not only purging herself of the pills she’s taken (seriously, Walking Dead writers: Do you just not know how emergency contraception works, or did you assume we didn’t?) but also confessing her affair with Shane to Rick — who’s already guessed that his wife, assuming that he was dead, had slept with his partner. In other words, she does what she’s always done, flirting with pessimism about the world’s and her family’s future before cleaving to her husband’s blind faith that things will get better. Surely, part of her decision to keep the baby has to do with Lori’s own eventual refusal to give up hope.

What’s disturbing — at least for the pro-choice among us — is that Rick’s and Shane’s worldviews aren’t presented as merely optimistic vs. pessimistic; they’re increasingly painted as good vs. evil, too. Combined with Maggie’s repulsion and Lori’s confession to Rick that she didn’t tell him about the pregnancy because she didn’t want him to share her guilt over the abortion, and The Walking Dead is reflecting some surprisingly conservative views. In the same Entertainment Weekly interview, Kirkman reveals what appear to be strong moral reservations about abortion, as though it would take a zombie apocalypse to even make it a realistic option: ” If there’s ever been an argument for abortion I think the thought of bringing a child into a world infested with zombies is definitely something that at least warrants a discussion.” TV is rarely bold enough to depict abortion as as a justifiable choice, but suggesting that it’s immoral to terminate a pregnancy even at the end of the world, when a baby would endanger the lives of not only its mother but the Grimes’ entire group? That’s pretty extreme.

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