'Law and Order' Tackles Abortion

NBC's venerable crime procedural, "Law & Order," has endured a fair amount of deserved criticism around here lately. Big Hollywood's thoughtful critiques of the show's leftward slide and irksome predictability are, sadly, valid. Like many L&O fans, I've been forced to admit that recent seasons have been quite disappointing. The word "cancellation" has cropped up in my mind more than once.

That being said, this season has been refreshingly solid. Aside from the atrocious "Let's prosecute Cheney!" season premiere, each successive episode has been vintage "Law & Order." The most recent episode ("Dignity," October 23) bordered on spectacular. *Spoiler alert*

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It did not begin auspiciously. The opening sequence set the stage for yet another warmed-over episode wherein an abortionist is murdered, and the rest of the program consists of detectives trying to determine which anti-abortion nutter did the deed. The show's writers usually permit one character to utter a single token pro-life line ("Just because you might disagree with abortion doesn't justify this violence!"), while the oh-so-reasonable pro-choice characters get the last word. Having seen this template before, I almost flipped channels. It seems as though at least one of the L&O spinoff series airs a "new" abortion-doctor-murder episode every year. One wonders if more abortionists have been slain on this fictional television franchise over the past 20 years than in real life.

But last week's episode marked a dramatic departure from the familiar, biased trope. After detective Bernard makes a few forceful pro-life points in an impromptu squad car debate with his partner, ADA Cutter jumps into the fray. He professes his pro-life views and refutes a condescending response from his pro-choice colleague (Rubirosa) by citing the "turning tide" of public opinion and mentioning that most Americans now consider themselves pro-life. Apparently Mr. Cutter's been checking the latest Gallup stats. Rubirosa replies by pointedly referring to those who share Cutter's views as "anti-choice," at which point the reliably liberal District Attorney, Jack McCoy, mentions his own daughter's change of heart on the issue. She was staunchly pro-choice, he explains, prior to seeing the image of her unborn child in an ultrasound. End of scene.

Jaw-dropping stuff.

Later in the episode, it's revealed that the victim was performing illegal, post-birth abortions--more commonly known as murder--at his clinic. A whistle-blower nurse informs the DA office that she left the deceased doctor's practice after witnessing a failed abortion result in a live birth, and then a callous killing. (For those who follow the abortion issue closely, this story may sound familiar. It also raises an issue that was used to highlight the radical pro-abortion record of a certain post-partisan Messiah during the 2008 campaign). On the stand, the nurse testifies about the repugnant practice, explaining that the baby's corpse was discarded as "medical waste." This revelation horrifies both Rubirosa and the jury.

Later in the trial, another witness describes her decision not to abort her severely disabled child. Her story moves the jury to tears.

The prosecution then calls an expert witness--a doctor--who testifies that his murdered colleague was doing good, medically necessary work. Upon cross-examination, he's exposed as a pro-abortion zealot; willing to perform third trimester abortions for any reason, no matter what the law says. His contempt for Christians and pro-lifers is palpable, and turns off the jury. The prosecutors are left wringing their hands about how poorly he performed on the stand.

Again, stunning. I kept checking the channel guide--this really was "Law & Order."

As the episode drew to a close, ADA Rubirosa offers the following admission:
"I grew up thinking Roe v. Wade was gospel. That a woman's privacy was inviolate. But after hearing that woman on the stand talk about her baby dying in her arms, I don't know. I don't know where my privacy ends and another being's dignity begins."

Cutter (the pro-life one, remember) tells her that in the current case, the distinctions are pretty black and white, and that it's their job to put away the bad guys. To which Rubirosa replies,
"I'm glad it's so clear-cut for you, Mike. Unfortunately, I can't leave my soul in the umbrella stand when I come into work in the morning."

You can watch the scene described above here. In case you were curious, the trial ends with the abortionist's killer being convicted. (A verdict that all true pro-lifers would applaud). "Dignity" provided viewers with a nuanced, layered depiction of a hot-button social issue that did justice--and then some--to the conservative position.

To the writers and producers of "Law & Order," Bravo.

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