‘Black Mirror’ Obscures Women’s Health Care


Paola Nagovitch, Deputy Opinion Editor

“Black Mirror” recently returned on Dec. 29 with a new season. The popular Netflix series is known for its exploration of the intersection between technology and humanity — more specifically focusing on the effect of technology on human activities and relationships. The second episode of the fourth season, “Arkangel,” chronicles the lives of a single mother, Marie, and her daughter, Sara, in a commentary about helicopter parenting. However, it creates a false narrative about women’s contraception, and consequently  has the potential to hinder its access.

Out of concern for Sara’s safety, Marie installs a device, called the Arkangel, in Sara’s brain, thus allowing her to track all of Sara’s movements through a tablet. Marie can see what Sara sees, check her health vitals and track her location. When Marie witnesses Sara having unprotected sex, she slips emergency contraception, or EC, into Sara’s smoothie. Sara discovers this when she vomits and ends up at the nurse’s office. The nurse explains to Sara that EC is “emergency contraception for terminating a pregnancy” or in other words, a means to guaranteeing an abortion. This explanation is an issue because EC is different from abortion pills. Although “Arkangel” primarily focuses on helicopter parenting, the producers wrongly portrayed EC pills as abortion pills. This conflation of EC pills and abortion perpetuates the misconception that family planning resources, such as contraception, are characterized by abortions and further diminishes women’s access to health care.

It is crucial to emphasize that EC pills are not abortion pills. EC pills will not interrupt an established pregnancy because they are not effective after implantation. EC pills are preventive pills. Even though it is a fictional show, “Black Mirror” should be conscious of the implications of this conflation during a political period where women’s health care is constantly under attack. Pro-life advocates, including Holly Scheer, refer to this episode as a source to uphold the narrative that emergency contraception pills are the same as abortion pills because they interfere with the progress of fertilization to implantation, even though fertilization has not yet occurred. Referring to conception as the creation of life enables anti-abortion champions to conclude that EC pills are equivalent to abortion pills because it stops implantation after life has already been conceived. Moreover, equating the two pills also contributes to the pro-life belief that any form of contraception is a toll for abortion as opposed to a preventive measure. “Arkangel” plays into a false narrative that equates EC and abortion pills, and the consequences are a misconception that furthers the pro life agenda.

“Black Mirror” needs to be more careful about the implications it has on women’s health care. Women’s access to health care in America is in danger under the administration of President Donald Trump. In 2017, the Trump administration dismantled an Obama administration birth control mandate that granted millions of women access to birth control without a copay. Therefore, shows with a wide platform, such as “Black Mirror,” must be vigilant about their content, whether it’s fictional or not. Overall, women’s reproductive health is a topic that should be treated with more caution to avoid further hindering women’s access to contraception.

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A version of this appeared in the Monday, Jan. 22 print edition. Email Paola Nagovitch at [email protected].