This story contains spoilers about Black Mirror Season Four, Episode Two.
The new season of Black Mirror makes a completely misleading, and medically inaccurate error in its portrayal of abortion. An error that’s actually really dangerous.
To recap, “Arkangel”—the second episode of the dystopian series’ fourth season— tells the story of a mother, Marie, who surveils her teen daughter Sara using a chip that’s been implanted in her brain. Through this monitoring software, Sara’s mum learns that her daughter is pregnant. We then see Marie going to a pharmacy shortly before she crushes two pills which she adds to a smoothie for her daughter.
The scene that follows is where Black Mirror’s portrayal of abortion goes horribly wrong.
Sara is sitting in a classroom when she suddenly begins to feel unwell. She rushes to the bathroom where she vomits. Sara is then seen by a nurse whose knowledge of abortion is extremely shaky.
“It was the EC pill that made you sick,” the nurse says.
“EC?” Sara replies.
“Emergency contraception. For terminating a pregnancy,” the nurse tells her.
After Sara says she has no knowledge of taking emergency contraception, the nurse says: “It will work in spite of the vomiting. You don’t have to worry about that. You’re not pregnant anymore.”
This scene exposes Black Mirror’s complete lack of understanding of abortion, and indeed contraception.
Emergency contraception, also known as the morning after pill and Plan B, is NOT the same as abortion pills. And, conflating the two is extremely dangerous.
Per abortion clinic organisation Marie Stopes, “the medical abortion/abortion pill is not the same as the morning after pill/emergency contraception.”
The morning after pill is taken to prevent pregnancy.
“You should take emergency contraception as soon as possible after unprotected sex to prevent getting pregnant, as it only works up to 5 days after unprotected sex,” reads Marie Stopes’ advice page. “If you’ve had unprotected sex more than 5 days ago, and/or you are late for your period, you will need to take a pregnancy test,” it continues.
How does it work? The emergency contraceptive pill is a “progesterone-only hormone pill” which delays “the release of an egg from an ovary” to prevent pregnancy. There’s only one pill to take—not two, as shown on Black Mirror.
Medical abortion pills—Mifepristone and Misoprostol—have to be administered by qualified medical professionals and cannot be purchased over the counter at a pharmacy.
According to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), the first pill administered— mifepristone—makes the lining of the uterus break down in order to end the pregnancy. The second pill administered—misoprostol—”makes the womb contract” and causes “cramping, bleeding, and the loss of the pregnancy similar to a miscarriage.”
Black Mirror‘s gross error did not go unnoticed by viewers. Journalist Erin Gloria Ryan says that this conflation is also “falsehood” used by U.S. conservatives in arguments against the use of the morning after pill.
Abortion rights organisation NARAL Pro-Choice America also weighed in on Black Mirror’s error.
“Not only is the idea of emergency contraceptives as “abortifacients” an idea propagated by anti-choice extremists to limit access to birth control – it’s also scientifically & medically inaccurate. Not cool, @BlackMirror,” tweeted NARAL.
And, alarmingly, far right outlet The Federalist has already picked up on Black Mirror’s portrayal of the morning after pill as an abortion method. On 2. Jan, it published an article entitled “Black Mirror Is Right: ‘Emergency Contraception’ Can Cause Abortion” arguing that the portrayal was scientifically accurate.
Others pointed out that the episode in question was in fact directed by a woman, Jodie Foster, and that more research on abortion pills and emergency contraception was needed.
One thing was clear among those calling out Black Mirror’s mistake: this conflation is completely irresponsible.
Mashable reached out to Netflix for clarification, but did not receive an immediate response.