Spenser for Hire: the abortion episode

Courtney E. Martin has posted an article on Alternet asking if we should look past the men who use abortion politics as an attempt to control women, in order to embrace male pro-choice allies who are also traumatized by abortion choices? At least, that’s what I got out of it. The article is difficult to sum up; it’s not “what about the menz”, but it is definitely asking a question about how to reach out to male allies in a way that is simply fair to everyone.

Perhaps that article combined with my recent 80’s flashbacking caused me to remember an episode of Spenser: for Hire, a detective drama in the mid-80’s starring the unfortunately deceased Robert Urich and a young Avery Brooks. My mom watched the show every week, and I often watched it with her.

At one point in the show, Spenser’s girlfriend Susan became pregnant. She didn’t want to have a child with a father who was constantly risking his life, and so she had an abortion. I remember the scene in which she was in a hospital bed and, if memory serves (the show is not being re-run nor is it on DVD), he’s sitting there with her, unhappy. He hadn’t wanted the abortion. But neither had he volunteered to stop risking his life and take impending fatherhood seriously. He had made his choice; she had made hers.

I was young, so maybe I missed something. But I don’t recall a feeling of either character being judged. I remember her offering poignant arguments why this was the better choice for her. I remember him wanting the baby but refusing to interfere with her right to choice. Because he too had a choice: to show how important fatherhood was to him by growing up and taking it seriously, or not.

I was quite stunned in the 90’s to hear men talk about not having choices in abortion. That they should have the right to prevent a woman from getting one if that’s their sperm in there, no matter how thoughtlessly it was contributed. It’s painful to look back and realize 80’s pop culture showed a deeper understanding of all the many choices both partners make leading up to an abortion or birth than allegedly serious news media shows now.

In the 80’s, it was much easier to sympathize with men like Spenser, because pop culture assured us these men recognized their own contributions to the difficult situation. That assurance is gone partly because of the attitudes of real life men who take no responsibility for their own actions but want to control someone else’s, but also partly because of a media that would rather show some blithering nut go on and on with generalizations of straw women who hurt men than show real people, struggling with real choices and real responsibility.


  1. scarlett says

    There was a debate a few years ago where the minister for health announced his anti-abortion stance because his girlfriend had had one years ago. I kind of had sympathy because from what I could glean, it had been a commited relationship where he had wanted the kid and she hadn’t. But what was never discussed is how many such sitautions are there and how many are there where the relationship is unviable, where the father is away for long stretches of time (as a high-profile pollie would be) or just not someone who should be a father.

    I’d like to see more support for fathers who’ve been through abortions against their wishes because I imagine for many men, that would be a very traumatic experience. But I’d also like to see more education into the fact that, however traumatic it might be, it can’t be any worse than forcing a woman to have a baby.

  2. Gategrrl says

    I vaguely remember seeing this episode, or something like it, in syndication a looong time ago…

    And about two years ago, I read a Spenser book my mother left behind; it was interesting, because in it, Susan *leaves him for someone else* and while Spenser has another woman fall for him during that time, he goes right back to Susan when Susan decides she’s had enough of the Other Man. As macho a character as Spenser is in the books, he’s all about loyalty.

    It’s interesting that the television series chose to portray the depth of devotion between the two of them with this particular subject. Concurrently with Spenser, though, weren’t the networks also very into Movies of the Week starring different Issues? Such as The Day After, The Burning Bed, etc etc? I seem to remember television airing much harder issue-oriented programs/TV movies back then than they do now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *