TORONTO – The esteemed Canadian teen-TV franchise “Degrassi” is tackling the subject of abortion again, given that it’s “a very important time to be telling this story,” says series co-creator Linda Schuyler.
In the upcoming third season of “Degrassi: Next Class,” Amanda Arcuri’s 16-year-old character Lola Pacini decides to have an abortion and viewers get a unique perspective — from inside the procedure room with her.
“We’re constantly reading the stats and keeping apprised as to what’s happening and also have our finger on the pulse of some of the scary right-wing thinking that’s out there,” says Schuyler, who is also an executive producer for the show.
“We’re very much influenced by what’s going on in the world, there’s no question. When this season comes on air, in the very first episode, we (also) see that ‘Degrassi’ is welcoming Syrian refugees.”
The entire third season will be available in Canada on Friday on the Family Channel app and on Netflix in the U.S. and around the world. The season makes its Canadian broadcast premiere on Family Channel on Monday night.
This is the fourth time a “Degrassi” character has had an abortion. The previous characters were Erica Farrell of “Degrassi High,” Tessa Campanelli of “School’s Out!” and Manny Santos of “Degrassi: The Next Generation.”
“We’ve also done an equal number of stories of kids who get pregnant and make different choices,” says Schuyler.
“So it’s not like we are advocating, ‘Get pregnant, get an abortion.’ But we really felt that it was very important, particularly in this day and age when the abortion debate is coming back on the main stage, that we wanted to demystify it.
“Our message is not: ‘Use abortion as birth control.’ Far from it,” she adds. “But we also want to respect the dignity and the rights of a young woman to be able to make her own informed choices.”
In the episode “#IRegretNothing,” Lola finds out she’s pregnant and decides to have an abortion after researching her options for a couple of weeks.
When a counsellor at the clinic stresses that she can take more time to think about her options, Lola insists she wants to go through with it. Cameras then show her lying on the examination table and chatting with the doctor in the procedure room as he preps the equipment.
“I think that it will help a lot of teenagers realize that, ‘Hey, it’s OK if I do this because it is my body and I can be strong after this, I’ll get through this, I have lots of people supporting me,'” says Arcuri.
Lola isn’t haunted by her decision, as is often the case in abortion storylines. Instead, she tells a friend that it wasn’t a difficult choice for her and that she doesn’t feel sad or regretful.
“Some girls will have an emotion and cry for days after and some will feel strong and feel liberated and feel like it wasn’t a big deal. And I think it’s a good way to tell a story — that people react differently, Lola’s reaction is justified, it’s normal, it’s OK,” says Arcuri.
“I’m happy that the writers gave me this opportunity to portray it and help young girls.”
Lola also doesn’t tell the father about her abortion beforehand. Arcuri says it speaks to a woman’s right to make a decision about her own body, but she adds that it might make some viewers angry.
“It was also very scary to think about portraying this with all the controversy that’s going on and how many people have different views on this specific topic,” she says.
“I wanted to get it right and to prepare myself for any backlash or anything that happens.”
The new season picks up right after the season 2 cliffhanger, which involved a tragic bus crash. The new season will also see an influx of Syrian refugees to “Degrassi.”
But the abortion storyline will likely be among the most discussed, says Schuyler: “It is a subject matter, out of all — I think we’re up to 525 episodes of ‘Degrassi’ now — and no question, it’s the first, if not the second, most divisive topic that we talk about.”