Hulu’s “Shrill” works to normalize abortion, humanize women undergoing the procedure

Hulu’s new original show “Shrill” works to revolutionize depictions of a woman’s abortion without scorn. Aidy Bryant, the show’s producer and star, portrays main character Annie who decides to go through with having an abortion.

This entire sequence is handled with grace and care. First, the audience is introduced to a classic clinic waiting room scene. Annie is accompanied by her best friend and roommate, Fran—portrayed by Lolly Adefope—and the audience learns that Annie is allowed a “support person” while undergoing the procedure. 

The show jump-cuts to a bird’s eye view of Annie’s face and shoulders; she is clearly on an examination table with Fran’s hand on her shoulder. The shot is visually sympathetic to Annie’s nervousness and Fran’s comforting presence.

The viewer is then walked through the abortion process as Annie undergoes it. Annie and Fran are soothed by the nurse practitioner’s voice as she narrates every step of the process. There is the procedural “numbing,” the “opening [of the] cervix” and so on.

While watching this breathtaking scene, the audience is compelled to feel Annie’s complicated emotions. In a society where abortion is still taboo, this show works to create unabashed dialogues around the issue. This step is the first of many on the path to making abortion accepted and understood. Annie is humanized and her experience is seen, lived and, most importantly, written in a way which prevents demonization.

Bittersweet music carries Annie from the abortion scene to the next where she and Fran lay silently and contently together on a bed adorned with many throw pillows. Behind them, through large bay windows, the trees’ green leaves shake gently in the wind and all the colors are muted. There is an overwhelming sense of calm in this scene. When the two look toward each other, smile, and Annie moves to rest her head in the crook of Fran’s neck, the viewer senses contentment in the decision despite the layers of emotion involved.

The contrast between the scenes demonstrates what the series does well. The abortion scene is tense and uncomfortable, just as the abortion procedure is. The show could have portrayed a cliché protest trope in which eggs are thrown at women entering or leaving places like Planned Parenthood. Instead, the show gives audiences a beautiful image of female friendship. 

“Shrill” depicts a stunning picture of confidence in one’s own choice, without giving bigotry and hatred a face like so many other forms of media. The last scene in this truly revolutionary sequence depicts Annie a few days after the abortion.  

Annie wears a red dress and admits to Fran that she feels “really, really happy.”  She admits that in making a decision “only for [her]self,” she has empowered herself.  No man appears in the abortion sequence, and Annie’s conversation with Fran ends on a light note: she starts shimmying her shoulders, saying that she might be “feeling herself.”

“Shrill” allows viewers to see that abortion doesn’t have to be a wholly melancholy affair. It is within any woman’s prerogative to experience abortion and the emotions that come with it in her own way, but so often we are given one story of abortion.