Why Yellowjackets' Portrayal Of A DIY Abortion Is So Important

Spoilers ahead for episode 6 of "Yellowjackets." Content warning: discussions of reproductive autonomy and abortion.

For the last month, I've dedicated no less than 62% of my daily energy to screaming at the top of my lungs about how more people need to be watching "Yellowjackets" on Showtime, and it's not just because of the teenage cannibalism or abundance of queerness. In what has been an incredible year for television, "Yellowjackets" is still undoubtedly one of the best shows that arrived in 2021. But between its exclusive availability on Showtime, a channel that unfortunately not everyone has access to, and the fact it features a cast predominantly comprised of women, nowhere near as many people are watching the show as they should be. The show was thankfully renewed for a second season, and now that "Succession" is off the Sunday night competition block, the "Yellowjackets" hive is attracting more buzz every day.

The show is a thrilling look at the immediate aftermath of a plane crash in 1996 that left a varsity girls' soccer team stranded in the Canadian wilderness, as well as a look at the lives of some of the survivors 25 years later. The comparisons to "Lost" and "Lord of the Flies" are easy to make and in abundance, but what makes "Yellowjackets" so special is its willingness to say what we've all known for a millennia: that women are just as capable of enacting horrific cruelty and brutal acts of violence. That said, the series isn't afraid to explore the specific complexities surrounding teenage adolescence for young girls. 

Last week's episode, "Saints," showcased an all-too-true reality that entertainment mediums typically shy away from ... Shauna's attempt at performing a self-induced abortion.

Shauna's Lack of Abortion Access Impacts The Entire Team

"Yellowjackets" is certainly not the first (nor will it be the last) show to tackle the topic of abortion, but Shauna's abortion story comes from a scenario not often shown on television, where access to abortion is not just difficult, but a legitimate impossibility. Shauna's teenage pregnancy happens after hooking up with her best friend Jackie's boyfriend, Jeff, the man she will end up marrying after enduring a brutal 19 months of survival in the wilderness. Shauna discovers her pregnancy after the menstrual cycles of her teammates all sync up, and she is now facing a pregnancy without any resources. Moreover, she feels unable to tell anyone as it would jeopardize the camaraderie of the very team she depends on for survival.

Confessing her pregnancy would mean admitting to her best friend that she screwed her boyfriend, which would undoubtedly destroy their friendship — the one thing in Shauna's life that she thinks is worth surviving for. Typically speaking, abortion stories are isolated incidences that only impact a select and direct few, whereas the lack of abortion access in "Yellowjackets" represents the painful reality that a lack of access impacts not just those facing abortion, but the entire community that surrounds them. Confessing the truth could cause infighting, but going through with the pregnancy puts her life and the life of her team at risk as well. They don't have the resources to raise a baby out here, and lest we forget, they're just teenagers trying to survive the dangerous wilderness.

Shauna's Pregnancy is Authentically Teenage

Obviously, Shauna is also aware of the personal risks of both continuing a pregnancy and trying to end it via a backwoods abortion. But as a teenager, these risks feel miniscule in comparison. I know this, because I was only 15 years old when I had to seek out an abortion of my own, one I needed after enduring severe bodily trauma that made the pregnancy unviable. I remember my friend picking me up off the side of a gravel road and taking me to the nearest clinic, thereby saving my life, but I didn't think about the fact I was dying there on the road. All I could think about was how this was going to impact my friends, my teachers, my reputation, and most importantly, my parents.

The only person who knows about Shauna's pregnancy right now is Taissa, and after Shauna confesses who the father is, she laments that at least if she died during the abortion, she'd die with her best friend not hating her for her act of betrayal. This is one of the most brutally honest aspects of Shauna's pregnancy plot and a moment I am so thankful the writers put in. You are denied access to so many things as a teenager, and it's hard to see the forest for the trees of your future. Friendships become your lifeline and for Shauna, losing that is equally as harsh an outcome as losing her literal mortal existence. As adults we may look at this prioritization as silly, but for a teenager like Shauna, this perception is beyond valid. She's not thinking like a teenager whose dialogue was written by adults with foresight; she's thinking like a teenager.

Yellowjackets Shows How Horrifying DIY Abortions Actually Are

At this point, the wire coat hanger description of at-home abortions has become so commonplace it feels like the world has become desensitized to the concept. Shauna's preparation of her backwoods abortion feels ceremonial, but also looks like a teenager's attempt at imitating medical dramas she's seen on television. She gently folds fabric to place a bottle of astringent, a lighter, and a misshapen bra underwire on top of, looking like the start to every surgery shown on "E.R." Just as Shauna is about to begin her self-procedure, Taissa appears and offers her assistance, not wanting Shauna to go through this alone.

It's at this moment that the mortality risk sinks in, and Shauna nods her head allowing Taissa to help her, fear washing over her. This is the first time the severity of the situation has fully hit Shauna, and as Taissa gently inserts the crudely prepared underwire, Shauna panics and confesses she can't go through with it. "I don't want to die," she screams out as Taissa holds her. Shauna's wailing cries echo the thoughts that rang through my own head when I finally got on that operating table, and again during my second abortion as an adult, due to circumstances that frankly no one is entitled to an explanation for needing. Shauna doesn't stop the abortion due to some moral quandary about the "sanctity of life" or whatever other manipulative trash anti-choicers try to guilt people into believing. She stops because she finally realizes that following through with an unsafe abortion could kill her.

This is the Reality We're Facing

When given access to safe and legal abortion, the abortion procedure is over 20x safer than giving birth. With Roe v. Wade currently on the chopping block in America, this is the devastating reality we're facing. There are going to be a lot more Shaunas in the world, and a lot of them aren't going to have Taissas to comfort them, or be able to stop the procedure no matter how scared they are, and a lot of them are going to die.

As I watched Shauna allow Taissa attempt to terminate her pregnancy, I kept thinking about how she was looking up at the sky, making eye contact with the clouds to distract her from the procedure between her legs. The scene was hard to watch, that much is true, but it's undoubtedly one of the most important scenes in the first season of "Yellowjackets," and in all honesty, one of the best moments of television all year. During my second abortion, the clinic replaced the drop ceiling above the procedure bed with a translucent gel meant to imitate a blue sky with clouds in an attempt to give patients something more tranquil to focus on. It did offer me solace, but after this week's "Yellowjackets," thinking about that tile of blue sky acts as a reminder of how fortunate I was to even have the privilege of an imitation.

"Yellowjackets" is on Showtime every Sunday. Showtime app users can watch the episode early, but the channel broadcasts at 10 P.M. PST/7 P.M. EST.