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'Secret Life of the American Teenager' season finale: Tackling abortion like few teen shows have

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Secret-Life-Adrian

Image Credit: Randy Holmes/ABC FamilyThe Secret Life of the American Teenager wrapped up its season last night with a shocker: Sex-loving-and-proud-of-it Adrian strongly suspected she was pregnant with Ben’s child after the two hooked up once in an effort to get back at their exes, Ricky and Amy (who, incidentally, have a baby from their own one-time stand, which is the basic premise of the series). Not only that, but Adrian repeatedly, eloquently, and unapologetically expressed her intention to have an abortion if it turns out she is (the cliffhanger left that open to question). “I am taking responsibility here,” she said when chastised for not doing so. “I’m not having a baby and ruining my life like Amy.” As Ben’s Christian friend Jack said upon hearing the news, “Holy Schneikes.” It was a gutsy move, to say the least — for the show as well as Adrian.

Secret Life has never topped my list of well-written television shows — the dialogue can be clunky (see above) and silly and preachy, and inexplicably, riddled with detailed accounts of legal requirements (for child custody, for weddings, for driving on a permit). But what it lacks in finesse it makes up for in no-nonsense talk about sex aimed straight at teenagers, its clear target audience. There’s no sense in shielding kids — who are clearly having as much sex as ever — from this stuff. And TV dramas can be a great place to give them information — studies have proven it.

To be clear: That’s not a call for more teen abortions on television shows. But the sensitive portrayal of girls struggling with every agonizing decision that a real-life pregnancy entails — even this controversial option — shows the heartbreak involved instead of shrouding it in mystery, which could have the opposite effect, making termination seem like an “easy” way out. Here, Secret Life is taking a cue from MTV’s riveting, wrenching reality show 16 and Pregnant, which does the exact opposite of glamorizing teen pregnancy by showing every harrowing bit of what being with child really involves (sketchy boyfriends, irritated parents, labor pains, late nights, and all).

While teen TV shows have occasionally mentioned the A word, often the character in question will decide to keep the baby and/or suffer a conveniently plotted miscarriage that’s forgotten by the next week. The late, great Everwood featured a guest character who got an abortion, and Degrassi: The Next Generation went there with a major character — though its network, The N, declined to air that episode of the Canadian show at the time (it later included it in rerun cycles). This is a daring move for Secret Life. The show might still exist in a bit of a fantasy world where boys are thrilled to date girls who just got knocked up by someone else, but Adrian’s pregnancy bombshell shows it’s got grit and guts beyond what it’s shown us so far.

The cliffhanger ending, which showed Ben looking forlornly out an upstairs bedroom window at his father’s wedding reception in the yard below as Adrian took a pregnancy test, also happens to be the first time this show has choked me up. I don’t think that’s a coincidence — it reflects the enormity of such a decision, and the power of effective drama.

What do you think, PopWatchers? Did you watch the finale? What did you think of Adrian’s dilemma?