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As a result, Mr. Thompson said, movie and TV producers shy away from having recurring characters undergo abortions, fearing they will be “branded with the scarlet letter — that ‘A’ — that would damage her in viewers’ eyes.”

The complex range of circumstances and emotions that lead some women to have abortions also runs counter to the tidy, unchallenging version of the world presented by most TV shows and movies, added Judith Wilt, a professor of English at Boston College. Her books include “Abortion, Choice, and Contemporary Fiction: The Armageddon of the Maternal Instinct.”

“Abortion is so complex — and divisive — that Hollywood seems to have concluded that it’s not worth the trouble,” she said. “Besides, Hollywood is addicted to happy endings, and it’s difficult, though not impossible, to present abortion that way.”

Ms. Wilt’s research also suggests that abortion is at odds with how many people, even those who consider themselves feminists, want to see the world.

“The liberal cultural fantasy now is that women can have it all,” she said. “Instead of having to make the hard choice between the life you imagined for yourself or your fetus, they are far more attracted to the idea that you can have babies, work and everything else the modern world offers.”

Bill Brooks, executive director of the N.C. Family Policy Council, a conservative think tank, believes something darker is afoot — that Hollywood avoids abortion because it doesn’t want to remind people of its horrors.

“They’re afraid that if people really know the truth about abortion, they’ll turn against it,” he said. “They don’t want to talk about it because they don’t want the rest of us thinking about it.”

For all our uneasiness, abortion remains legal. Its relative absence from popular culture sends a dangerous message to the millions of women who have abortions or will have them, argues Audrey Fisch, a professor of English at New Jersey City University, who has written about the issue for Salon.com.

“By ignoring the issue, Hollywood ends up suggesting that abortion is an unspeakable abomination and that people who get abortions are bad people,” Ms. Fisch said. “By refusing to represent the real lives of women — including the economic and social damage that can come from unplanned pregnancies — Hollywood is fostering a destructive pro-life culture.”

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