Abortion On A Sitcom? Bea Arthur's Dilemma On 'Maude'

By | November 18, 2020

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Maude's Beatrice Arthur (as Maude Findlay), 1975. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

In November 1972, the Bea Arthur sitcom Maude took on the topic of abortion, which was as much a hot-button issue then as now. The two-part story "Maude's Dilemma" found the main character, a 47-year-old grandmother, unexpectedly pregnant, and pondering her options -- at the same time the U.S. Supreme Court was pondering the landmark case Roe v. Wade. 

Maude was a hit show from the beginning, and would finish its first season in fourth place as measured by Nielsen. For a new show, tackling a topic like abortion might have been a risky move, but Maude was created by Norman Lear as a spinoff of his wildly successful All In The Family, a sitcom that was known for challenging its audience to laugh at uncomfortable topics. 

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“Maude” depicted the nuances of an exceptionally difficult topic, something lacking in today’s television. (ctv.ca)

Sometimes television shows transcend the medium, like The Sopranos or Breaking Bad. More often, in the groovy era, television shows attempted to do more than simply entertain. Iconic sitcoms like Good Times and All In The Family tried to impart life lessons that struck a sentimental chord with their massive audiences. In 1972, the hit show Maude made history by really pushing the envelope and centering an episode around abortion.

In 2020, abortion ranks as a hot button topic capable of ending a Thanksgiving dinner with a screaming match and hurt feelings. Obviously, back in the ‘70s abortion was even more controversial. When Maude’s courageous creatives aired the episode, the landmark Roe v. Wade decision was still two months away.