In the Hulu original series released March 15 and aptly titled Shrill, for how annoying it is, Saturday Night Live’s Aidy Bryant plays Annie, an overweight journalist who is trying to be more in touch with herself and find a healthy amount of self-esteem in her life to deal with her job, her parents, and her relationships. Based on the book Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West, a big part of this positive journey of self-discovery, it turns out, is her having an abortion.
In the first episode, part of Annie realization involves assessing how things are going with the guy she has been hooking up with for six months without a real date. Her partner, Ryan (Luka Jones), prefers sex without a condom which means they aren’t using consistent birth control methods. She has purchased and taken emergency contraception seven times.
When a pregnancy test comes back positive, she immediately assumes it’s a false positive and takes her urine soaked test to show the pharmacist, who explains to her that she is likely too overweight for the morning-after pill to be fully effective, which she’s also reminded is “supposed to be for emergencies only.”
In a tearful exchange outside a furniture store, Annie shares how she is thinking about actually having her baby, though like many other aspects of her life, it’s more to do with her warped sense of self. Annie’s black, lesbian roommate, Fran (Lolly Adefope), who says things like “I don’t apologize to white people” and is worried about being deported for taking mushrooms in pill form, tells her she should get an abortion.
[Warning: Graphic language]
Fran: Okay, I don’t understand. How did this even happen? I mean, you obviously use birth control.
Annie: I mean, usually we do, but I don’t know, Ryan loves to raw-dog.
Fran: Ooh, sorry, what?
Annie: Well, raw-dogging. It’s literally his favorite thing. So how could I take away his favorite thing?
Fran: My favorite thing is you not having a child with a guy who says ‘raw dog.’ You trying to take away my favorite thing?
Annie: No. No, I just… you know I’ve been using the morning-after pill, and it didn’t work?
Fran: Are you rich? That’s like $50 every time you have sex with Ryan.
Annie: It’s just he liked me, and I didn’t want him to stop liking me, so… I just went with it.
Annie: I know. I just… What do you think I should do?
Fran: What? Get an abortion, before it becomes illegal or something.
Annie: Yeah, but I keep having this little thought of like maybe this is my chance to be a mom.
Fran: Okay, you’re gonna have a lot more chances to be a mum, and maybe we just don’t take this one, which is the one with the guy who makes you leave through the back gate.
Annie: I just mean, like… there have been moments in my life where I, like, didn’t think that I would ever get to have that. You know? Because of what I looked like or because there’s a certain way that your body is supposed to be, and I’m not that. And that, maybe I was just sweet enough and nice enough and easy-going enough with any guy, that that would be enough for someone.
Fran: Honey, you’re being so mean to yourself. I… I mean, it makes me so sad.
Annie: Well… I mean, it’s humiliating to say out loud, but it’s also the kind of stuff that’s fucking going through my head all the time.
Fran: Then we need to make sure that it’s not going through your head all the time, and we need to untrain you from thinking of yourself in such a brutal way.
The abortion is portrayed as relatively nonchalant, with bittersweet music playing in the background. Fran is there with her, which is rarely if ever allowed, and the abortionist describes the procedure as she does it (Planned Parenthood collaborated on the series). In the next scene, Annie is all empowered and glowing as she tries on a new dress. The topic of her abortion comes up and Annie says she feels “very, very good” about it and “very fucking powerful.”
Annie [to receptionist]: Thank you.
Annie: Um, they actually said I can have a support person, which means that you can come with me.
Fran: Of course I will.
Abortionist: Okay, Annie. I’m just gonna finish numbing you now. You might feel some light cramping. You might also feel some numbing in your tongue or ringing in your ears. Okay?
Fran: You okay? [exhales]
Abortionist: Now I’m opening your cervix. Some cramping is normal. Everything looks great. And we’re about two-thirds of the way finished now.
Fran: You’re doing great, Annie. Almost done.
Fran: Annie? Are you awake?
Fran: Oh, my God.
Annie: Okay, yes?
Fran: Yes. Wow. Thank you.
Annie: You like it?
Fran: I’m a genius. I was right. You look fucking amazing.
Annie: I know. I didn’t think I was gonna like it, but I actually really like it. So, thank you.
Fran: How you feeling?
Annie: Better. Like I feel… really, really good.
Fran: What happened?
Annie: I don’t know. I’ve just had the last couple days to think about a lot of shit. Like when I was at my parent’s house, and I was just looking at all these photos of me, from when I was growing up, and little me was just so happy and fat and had big, dumb dreams. And I got myself into this huge fucking mess… but, I made a decision, only for me, for myself, and I got myself out of it.
Annie: I don’t know. I feel very fucking powerful right now. And I just feel like I need to go out.
Fran: Do it, bitch. I love you.
Annie: I love you too.
Refinery 29, which applauded the abortion as a “statement-making introduction … jumpstart[ing] its leading lady’s journey towards fearless self discovery,” quoted actress Bryant as saying, “For a lot of women, abortion isn’t this fraught moment in their life. They have clarity. And finally things click into place of like, ‘I’ve had this other path. I’ve said no. And I’m choosing to do this with my life.’ I think that is a really empowering experience.”
Annie doesn’t even tell Ryan until after she’s already had the abortion. He initially reacts with an “oh, shit” to hear that she got pregnant, but is immediately relieved and sees it as “good news” that Annie had an abortion, as he already has a 14-year old son. Not only did Annie have the abortion without consulting Ryan in the first place, she is angry with his reaction. Annie thought about having the baby, but so Ryan “would have to treat [her] like a normal girl” and she then realized she “shouldn’t have to fucking trap” him with a pregnancy.
The conversation surrounding the abortion continues into the second episode, “Date,” with how it’s “so bad” and a deal-breaker that Annie couldn’t tell Ryan about such a “huge thing.”
Will Annie always feel “really, really good” about her abortion? We don’t know that, as the abortion is not brought up again beyond the second episode, with Ryan’s mother casually mentioning, “Ryan tells me you went out and got my grand-baby aborted.” Annie explains to Fran that “then she said she wants to have a funeral for the fetus,” to which Fran asks if she told her “to fuck off” and says, “I would have punched her.”
Instead, the rest of the show delves into Annie’s life as if the pregnancy and abortion never happened. She’s both lauded and lambasted for her “female empowerment” article about strippers. She continues to deal with her weight and writes a non-approved article about it. She gets bullied by her gay boss who claims he didn’t have a choice to be gay while she had a choice to be fat, before she quits in what is supposed to be an epic move of her calling him “a close-minded coward” and that he’s “scared of” her articles.
She is on and off again with Ryan before he finally asks her to be his girlfriend, and they continue to have sex, though we aren’t privy to her method of contraception, leaving viewers to wonder if she will possibly get pregnant all over again.
While the abortion is only mentioned in two of the six episodes for this first season, Annie sees the abortion as something “really, really good” in her life, as if she needed an abortion to think positively about herself. A positive and healthy body image is a good thing for television shows to delve into. But it does not have to involve an abortion to do so.