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'New Amsterdam' Features Abortion Storyline for Woman With Down Syndrome


Editor's Note

Warning: This piece contains spoilers about season two, episode six of the NBC TV show “New Amsterdam.”

Tuesday’s episode of the NBC TV show “New Amsterdam” featured a woman with Down syndrome and her struggles with being pregnant and deciding whether or not to have an abortion. (Spoilers ahead.)

In the sixth episode of the medical drama’s second season, titled “Righteous Right Hand,” a group of women on a retreat end up in the emergency room, including a young woman with Down syndrome named Chante (Ghaliyah “Gigi” Cunningham). Hospital psychiatrist Dr. Iggy Frome (Tyler Labine) sits down next to Chante’s bed to ask her a few questions and explain why she won’t be getting her X-ray yet.

“We can’t give you an X-ray because you are pregnant,” Dr. Iggy tells Chante. “We give a blood test to women who don’t know if they’re pregnant before we give them an X-ray because an X-ray can harm the fetus.”

Chante asks if she’s in trouble for being pregnant, and Iggy explains she’s not. He then asks if she knew she was pregnant, to which she answers, “Maybe,” before telling him it wasn’t a planned pregnancy. Iggy asks if the sex was consensual, if she wanted to have sex, and Chante affirms her agency: “Who doesn’t wanna have sex? I like sex,” she responds. “Sex is great.” However, her boyfriend forgot the condom. Chante says she wants an abortion.

When Kaye Henry (April Matthis), the organizer of the group’s retreat and Chante’s legal guardian, learns Chante is pregnant tells Chante they will figure things out, Chante again says she doesn’t want to be a mom and wants an abortion. Iggy tells Kaye he thinks “it seems like this pregnancy would be a burden,” to which Kaye claps back, saying her family won’t be “co-opted” for anyone’s political “crusade.”

Iggy and the head of the emergency department, Dr. Lauren Bloom (Janet Montgomery), talk to Chante about her options, saying they believe she can make a decision about her pregnancy on her own. Chante agonizes over how her relationship might change with Kaye. In the end, Chante talks with Kaye, who tells Chante she will always support her.

Chante is played by model and actress Ghaliyah “Gigi” Cunningham, who first gained attention as a model in 2015, according to News-Gazette. She was hand-picked for the role by “New Amsterdam” Caparelliotis Casting agency after they asked her to send in an audition tape. Once Cunningham was onboard, her mom, Erica Taylor, said she worked with an assistant and acting coach who have siblings with Down syndrome and gave input into how to play Chante more authentically.

“[Caparelliotis] even allowed her to critique the script and portray her character in a way that reflected her own words and emotions,” Taylor told News-Gazette, adding:

For her personally, it was a great experience, and we feel very grateful and blessed for her to have this opportunity. She really enjoys acting and would like to challenge herself more. She can follow scripts well, and she has a sharp memory.

“I have a disability, but it doesn’t stop me from doing anything I want,” Cunningham added.

“New Amsterdam” is loosely based on a book about working in the famed Bellevue Hospital in New York, titled “Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital” by Eric Manheimer. It was created by David Schulner and features actor Ryan Eggold in the lead role of Dr. Max Goodwin. In addition to its recent episode representing Down syndrome, the show also tackles other health issues, including cancer, mental health and grief and loss.

“New Amsterdam” airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CT on NBC and you can watch the latest episode, “Righteous Right Hand,” for free on NBC’s website.