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HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" Takes on Abortion

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Samantha Frapart is the Online Advocacy Associate at NARAL Pro-Choice America

For those of you who have not finished Season 3 of HBO's Boardwalk Empire - SERIOUS SPOILER ALERT - please close your eyes and plug your ears.

If you either already watched it, or are not a fan (yet), then let's talk about how "Boardwalk Empire" impressively took on women's reproductive rights all season long. ******************************************************************************************************

I don't know what you were up to this Sunday at 9:00 p.m. ET, but I was glued to the TV as the best season of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" reached its finale.

BW - Show Cover.JPG

For those of you not yet obsessed, let me give you a quick rundown. "Boardwalk" takes place in Atlantic City during the Prohibition era. Nucky Thompson is a political figure who, behind closed doors, also happens to be one of America's most prominent gangsters. The main storyline is about the war on underground bootlegging, but Nucky's relationship with Margaret is a robust secondary story that puts a woman's right to choose at the forefront.

BW - Nucky and Margaret.JPG

Margaret has spent this season as a crusader of feminism. After witnessing a woman's preventable miscarriage (later revealed as a botched abortion), she opens a women's health clinic -- a nearly impossible feat if not for her chutzpah and Nucky's power. As this storyline progresses, we watch women struggle to get comprehensive prenatal-care education, birth control, and access to abortion care. Struggles, I recognize, that are not so outdated.

In this final episode, Margaret's fight to provide women with reproductive-health services comes full circle when she finds herself with an unwanted pregnancy. She seeks out a doctor to help her "monthly" to return (I'm sorry, her what?). Two rewinds later, I realized that Margaret had asked for (and later received) an abortion.

I must commend the writers of "Boardwalk" for tackling women's reproductive rights head on and without shame throughout the entire season. Margaret's decision (as well as those made by the other women she encounters at the health clinic) is never taken lightly. She made it thoughtfully, taking many facets, including the interests of her family, into consideration.

While "Boardwalk" takes place in the 1920's, we're still fighting some of the same battles today. Anti-choice lawmakers across the country are trying to turn back the clock on women's reproductive rights. We've seen egregious abortion bans crop up in states across the country that are especially harmful to women - like this woman in Nebraska who experienced heart-breaking complications during pregnancy. And recently, Arizona's Department of Health launched a medically-inaccurate and misleading website with a clear agenda to provide misinformation to women seeking abortion care.

There were even moments in "Boardwalk" where I couldn't tell the difference between the show and today's news. In the episode "Blue Bell Boy," a nun monitoring Margaret's prenatal care class syllabus blocks her from saying words like "vagina" and "pregnant," deeming them inappropriate. Outrageous, right? Well, it was also just last summer that pro-choice state Rep. Lisa Brown of Michigan spoke out against an anti-choice bill, but was gaveled "out of order" for saying "vagina."

BW - Margaret with Nun.JPG

I'm not saying this show is the be all and end all for women's rights on TV. No need to get hyperbolic. But the writers were successful in illustrating the shocking history of women's health in 1920's America while presenting an opportunity for us to reflect on the War on Women we face today. I consider this season a sobering reminder of the bumpy road ahead to achieving the right of every woman to make personal, private medical decisions. We cannot go back.

I urge you to check out this season and share your reactions with us via Facebook and Twitter.

Also, head over to "Boardwalk Empire's" Facebook page and tell them what you think!

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