‘House of the Dragon’ Reminds Us That Abortion Has Always Existed

After seemingly getting knocked up from her torrid sexual affair with the realm’s most loathsome incel, Alicent Hightower sips some Moon Tea to induce a miscarriage—because dragons may be fictional, but abortion has always existed!

‘House of the Dragon’ Reminds Us That Abortion Has Always Existed

Many are raving about this week’s House of the Dragon as the show’s best episode yet, and indeed, I’ve lost count of the number of Martin Scorsese “ABSOLUTE CINEMA” memes I’ve scrolled past on my timeline since Sunday night. And while the colossal dragon fight obviously stole the show, I’d like to direct everyone’s attention to that brief but cutting scene involving Queen Alicent and one particularly unsubtle cup of tea.

Early in the episode, Alicent calls for the Grand Maester to bring her a cup of Moon Tea, supposedly for some other poor, unlucky broad afflicted with an unwanted pregnancy. But when the Maester leaves her alone, we watch Alicent clutch her belly and sip the tea herself. Moon Tea, an invention of the show that serves as a medieval, Westerosi abortifacient, is meant to induce a miscarriage, like the modern mifepristone pill. Later, after Alicent drinks the tea and the creepy, omniscient Ser Larys shows up to check in on her, we see her holding warm coals over her abdomen in what appears to be the Westerosi equivalent of a heating pad to help with post-abortion cramps. We can only assume that Alicent is ending a pregnancy conceived by her torrid affair with the realm’s most loathsome incel, Ser Criston Cole, so, I’ll say it: Great choice! 

This isn’t the first time HotD has subtly, craftily delved into sexual and reproductive health. In the first season, we watched King Viserys send a cup of tea resembling medieval Plan B to a young Rhaenyra after he learns of her, err, night out on the town. Later, when Alicent learns of an incident involving her son, Aegon, sexually assaulting a maid, she has the girl drink the same tea. Obviously, this is a historical fantasy series, so it goes without saying that pretty much everything is fictionalized. But while dragons have never existed (or, I don’t know, who am I to say, really!?!), historians agree that across nearly every civilization, abortion always has. In this sense, the politicization and policing of it is a relatively recent development squarely about punishment and control. 

Historically, herbal abortions were commonplace among Indigenous people, while enslaved women would make DIY contraceptives and self-manage their abortions to prevent their unborn children from being born into the horrors of slavery. This week’s Dragon reminds us that abortion is ancient, uncontroversial, and should be as accessible to everyone as it was for Alicent to call on the royal doctor to bring her a cup of tea.

As a reproductive rights reporter, I truly adored the attention to detail in this little subplot, from the DIY heating pad to the lesson this presents about medication abortion, which has recently become the most common form of abortion in the U.S. This plotline was an especially fun touch, given that Criston and Alicent are both religious fanatics or at least devoutly religious; their affair itself is an affront to that, given how Criston took an oath of celibacy and Alicent chastised Rhaenyra for her premarital tryst years earlier. This, too, is a reminder that all people—of all faiths and all politics—have abortions. Abortion clinic staff frequently stress that the same people who protest outside their clinics have come as patients seeking abortion care. 

In sum, a lot happened in this week’s episode: Daemon absolutely lost his mind at Harrenhal; Aemond publicly humiliated Aegon at the council meeting—we’re told, in retaliation for Aegon humiliating Aemond at the brothel last week; Rhaenys, fighting both Aegon and Aemond on dragonback, went out as an absolute legend; and Rhaenyra finally told her heir, Jacaerys, the song of ice and fire. But Alicent’s abortion story, in particular, is a testament to the impressive care and detail that the show’s writers and creators have invested in creating the world of Westeros. It’s a fun nod to medication abortion and the ancient history of abortion, at a time when abortion politics are at a fever pitch. And perhaps most importantly, as a messy bitch who lives for drama, I’m obsessed with the juiciness of it all.

Anyway, everyone say “thank you abortion!” for sparing us an Ali-Cole baby, please.

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