The Secret Life of Us: articles

claudia karvan

Watershed: Claudia Karvan's character, Alex, will make a decision on her pregnancy in The Secret Life Of Us.

Drama opens screen door on right to life

It is a painful predicament faced by thousands of couples in Australia every year, yet it is rarely addressed on television.

But this week the drama series The Secret Life Of Us will tackle one of television's last taboos, when a character considers terminating a pregnancy.

Termination is the most common surgical procedure for Australian women, with between 80,000 and 100,000 performed every year.

Given the highly charged nature of the right-to-life debate, it was with some caution the writers and producers of The Secret Life Of Us approached the storyline.

"We had always talked about doing an episode where one of the characters gets pregnant, so we have been building up to this for some time," writer Judi McCrossin said.

The Channel 10 drama, which focuses on a group of 20-something urbanites living in the Melbourne bayside suburb of St Kilda, has been consistently praised for its realistic depiction of issues affecting young people.

And the storyline in which Claudia Karvan's character, Alex, a 29-year-old doctor, discovers she is pregnant to her former boyfriend Rex (Vince Colosimo) is no exception.

Her decision about how to deal with the unplanned pregnancy is revealed in tonight's episode.

In something of a watershed moment for Australian television, The Secret Life Of Us approaches the questions raised by accidental pregnancy in a confrontingly honest way. "Often, in television if a character gets pregnant she'll marry the guy and have the baby, or if she doesn't want to keep it she'll have a miscarriage," McCrossin said. "Or, if she does have an abortion, she's punished for it."

McCrossin aimed for realism when writing the script, consulting with female friends and medical experts for pointers on accuracy.

"More than anything, we wanted it to be truthful," she said. "Because it's a question so many women have asked themselves and because so many emotions come into their ultimate decision, it's important that we give it the right treatment."

While reasons for continuing or terminating an unplanned pregnancy are as numerous as they are complex, every woman in that situation ponders similar issues.

"If you are pregnant and you are in doubt about continuing the pregnancy, every woman faces the same decision," McCrossin said. "If you are a doctor or a lawyer or a 14-year-old girl or a mother of six children, this is something which is a leveller for all women."

For Karvan, who gave birth to her first child last year, the storyline was an opportunity to challenge herself as an actor.

"It's a great dramatic storyline and most good actresses want material they can sink their teeth into," McCrossin said.

"She likes to stretch herself emotionally. She realised it was a significant issue and it was something she wanted to explore in a realistic way."

To abort or not

· Dr Terri Foran, medical director of the NSW Family Planning Association:

"One in three Australian women will terminate a pregnancy at some stage in their lives so it is important that dramas depict the question of whether or not to terminate if they are supposed to be an accurate reflection of Australian life. I applaud the producers for having the courage to address the issue."

· Anne Hollonds, Relationships Australia chief executive officer:

"It is still a taboo area on TV. I think this situation happens in real life a lot more than TV would suggest. That this is being portrayed on TV shows a maturing of social attitudes with regards to unplanned pregnancy."

· Amy Butler, social issues spokeswoman, Anglican Diocese of Sydney:

"The writers have done us a favour by exposing a sad truth about society. Women fall pregnant and are often left alone with tough decisions to make. Claudia Karvan's character, Alex, has chosen to be sexually promiscuous and pregnancy is a consequence of this. As is clear from the fact that it won a Logie, The Secret Life Of Us is a very influential program. What concerns me is that the portrayal of relationships may suggest to younger viewers that relationships exist only for self-fulfilment. It will be interesting to see if the concept of compassion, rather than selfishness, is involved in Alex's decision."

· Marita Franklin, director, Catholic Communications:

"The sort of message being presented to young people about abortion in this style of TV drama is that life is expendable. It is to be hoped that the decision taken by the character is to allow the human being conceived to be born into the fullness of humanity."

By Rachel Browne
May 06, 2002
The Sun-Herald