Reproductive Justice
Friday Night Rights: Abortion in Small-Town Texas

Friday Night Rights: Abortion in Small-Town Texas

Two recent events have made me return to my favorite TV show of all time, Friday Night Lights, a well-written and riveting drama about football and small-town life in West Texas. First, I recently saw Connie Britton, aka Tami Taylor outside a restaurant in Beachwood Canyon, Los Angeles. I got so excited I stalled my car and hit the curb. She was wearing her signature aviator glasses, and I could just imagine her waving and saying “Hi y’all.” Second, the Supreme Court issued a stay on the upcoming closure of 10 of the remaining 19 abortion clinics in Texas. The Court mandated that the clinics remain open until the Court rules on whether it will decide the case of HB2, a 2013 Texas state bill that implemented unrealistic and unnecessary medical standards on clinics in the name of “women’s health.” What do these two seemingly unconnected events have to do with each other? Abortion, that’s what.

Friday Night Lights, Season 4, Episode 4.
Friday Night Lights, Season 4, Episode 4.

In season four, episode ten of Friday Night Lights, the character of tenth-grader Becky Sproles goes to the principal of Dillon High, certified counselor and all-around bad-ass woman, Tami Taylor, for help after she finds out she’s pregnant. Becky tearfully asks Tami, “Do you think I’m going to hell if I’m having an abortion?” Tami replies, “No honey, I don’t.” When Becky inquires about what Tami would tell her own daughter if she were in the same situation, Tami replies, “I would support whatever decision she made.” Tami empathizes with Becky and explains all her options. After making sure that Becky will face no physical or emotional danger at home, Tami advises Becky to speak with her mother, Cheryl. Accompanied by her mother, Becky goes through with the abortion. Tami is later heckled and vilified in public, but she never loses her cool. She does not back down or equivocate about the advice she gave to Becky, and she does not regret her part in helping Becky make the best decision for her at the time.

While Dillon, Texas is a fictional town, the book by H.G. Bissinger that launched both the movie and the television series was based on the West Texas town of Odessa. So let’s assume that Dillon is located somewhere near Odessa. In the episode in which Becky gets an abortion, we don’t know how long Becky and her mother Cheryl drive to the abortion clinic where Becky goes through with the procedure. In the consultation visit, however, Becky’s mom bristles at the state-mandated information the doctor delivers to them. We also know that Becky had to go through a mandatory waiting period, as Cheryl states that she has to take another day off of work for Becky to go through with the procedure. (The hopelessly deadbeat yet lovable former high school football star Tim Riggins offers to give Becky and her mom a ride to the clinic on the day of the actual abortion, like the true gentleman he is).

HB2's impact on abortion clinics in Texas. If the law is upheld, the nearest clinic for people living in Midland, Texas, will go from 10 miles away, to 280 miles. (The Guardian)
HB2’s impact on abortion clinics in Texas. If the law is upheld, the nearest clinic for people living in Midland, Texas, will go from 10 miles away, to 280 miles. (The Guardian)

Before HB2 went into effect in 2013 (the episode aired in 2010), 41 clinics were open in Texas, and one was located in neighboring Midland. Lubbock and San Angelo were the next closest clinics, roughly two- and one-half hour drives away (another clinic in Abilene, about the same distance away, closed in 2012). El Paso had two clinics, and was a roughly four-hour drive. But that was before HB2. After the bill passed, clinics started closing across the state. The Midland clinic closed in April 2013. The Lubbock clinic closed on January 11, 2013, and the San Angelo clinic closed in fall 2013. One El Paso clinic closed on January 4, 2014, and one is thought to be closed since June 9, 2015, despite the reprieve from the Supreme Court. While an out-of-state clinic exists in Santa Teresa, New Mexico (near El Paso), to get an abortion in Texas today, Becky and her mother would have had to drive to Fort Worth, four- and one-half hours away. That’s a nine-hour round trip, and remember, Cheryl and Becky would be making that twice due to Texas’s 24-hour mandatory waiting period.

Cheryl was a single mom, and it was clear that she and Becky barely made ends meet. Make no mistake about it, Tami Taylor would have driven Becky herself if need be (remember when she picked up Tyra from Cash’s hotel room?), but Texas requires parental consent and notification for teens undergoing an abortion. While Midland would be the easiest choice, Lubbock or San Angelo still seem like doable journeys (10 hours of total driving broken up into 2 days). But driving 18 hours to and from Fort Worth would be exhausting, expensive, and time consuming. Maybe Becky and her mother would have stayed in a hotel, but that’s also expensive. So, if the show were still running today, would its writers have had to rely on the herculean efforts of Tami Taylor (perhaps with a little help from Amy Schumer) to help Becky get an abortion? Because more and more these days it seems that only the wealthy or the superhuman can jump through the necessary hoops to get a legal abortion in Texas, and we all don’t have our personal Tami Taylor.

Further Reading

Bissinger, H.G. Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 1990.

Grossman, Dan, et al. “Change in Abortion Services after Implementation of a Restrictive Law in Texas.” Contraception 90, no. 5 (2014): 496-501.

Cassia received her PhD in Latin American History with a Concentration in Gender Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her book manuscript, titled A Miscarriage of Justice: Reproduction, Medicine, and the Law in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (1890-1940), examines reproductive health in relation to legal and medical policy in turn-of-the-century Rio de Janeiro. Cassia’s research has been supported by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the Coordinating Council for Women in History, the Fulbright IIE, and the National Science Foundation.