"You got it backwards, man. The horrible thing is the rape, not the bringing of a life into the world."
Two decades into an NBC staple, and just two years into America's resurgent personhood movement, "Law & Order" produced its first-ever overtly pro-life episode. In this installment, titled "Dignity," a vigilante murders a late-term abortionist at church with writers loosely basing their script on deceased Wichita abortionist George Tiller.
First airing Oct. 23, 2009, a "Law & Order" character, Assistant District Attorney (ADA) Connie Rubirosa says, "I grew up thinking Roe v. Wade was gospel. … But [now] I don't know where my privacy ends and another being's dignity begins." And Executive ADA Michael Cutter was quoting real-world surveys when he said, "The tide has turned. Most Americans are pro-life now."
As readers multiply at Internet news sites and surfers of all kinds swell, newspaper and network audiences are shrinking. U.S. newspaper circulation dropped 10 percent in the last six months. Ratings for a basic cable program just beat NBC's "Leno Show," and so on.
The personhood movement's ideas, some of them anyway, have made it into prime-time television. However, this showing has as many contradictions as it has reasons why it may have been produced, such as the producers' need for controversy, ratings and just to break the routine after 900 franchise-wide episodes. Presumably though, the producers would never have presented, for example, an overwhelmingly racist message.
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From its headquarters in Denver, American Right To Life advocates personhood as the strategy to re-criminalize abortion and, along the way, to influence the culture. Cutter, played by Linus Roache, virtually quoted the co-sponsor of Colorado's 2010 Personhood Amendment, Gualberto Garcia Jones, who launched the statewide ballot initiative holding his 10-day-old son at a press conference and saying, "Two weeks ago, my son had less rights than a dog or a cat." Speaking to District Attorney Jack McCoy, Cutter says, "My God, cats and dogs have more rights than the unborn."
What makes Garcia Jones' observation so horrific, powerful and influential is that no writer, producer nor a single pro-choice activist can even attempt to refute it. Kill a dog and go to jail. Of course, it is abortion that's always wrong – and there is never a medical emergency that could justify a physician who stops caring for a pregnant mom just long enough to kill her child.
Other examples of personhood influencing the episode include a detective rejecting abortion after rape, a reference to fetuses in the womb as "persons" and even the pro-choice mom who, against her doctor's advice, did not abort her premature baby and found out in the hours they had together that her child "wasn't a monster, like the doctors warned me."
Another pro-choice character argues abortion for rape, which is the unholy high ground of the entire abortion position, a shibboleth that must be slain. In response, Detective Kevin Bernard, played by Anthony Anderson, says, "You got it backwards, man. The horrible thing is the rape, not the bringing of a life into the world. That unwanted child could change the world. Cure cancer, be president."
The Bernard character knows what it means to be pro-life, unlike those who try to justify exceptions, which is the moral equivalent of defending a vigilante. The pretext for this episode is the killing of an abortionist, and virtually all pro-life leaders condemn such, as they should. But many of these same people try to justify "exceptions," which allow an innocent child to be killed with the goal of saving some. This, too, is a kind of anti-abortion violence.
The personhood movement opposes all anti-abortion violence, even that committed by "pro-life" politicians who fight so that some children will not be protected by love and by law. In 2006, then-President George W. Bush opposed South Dakota's statewide effort to ban abortion because, as he told ABC News, he affirmatively advocates a right to kill some kids. Bush is the consummate compromiser, but when it came to killing a handful of children, he was resolute. In effect: "I won't support a law that protects all innocent children; either we let them kill some, or we leave things as they are." It is wrong to defend governing officials who use their authority to allow the killing of the innocent, and when religious leaders do so, they convey a false sense of approval from God.
The Lord didn't care about all the fruit Eve did not eat; nor did He mention all the women David did not violate; nor list the children whom Herod did not kill. God looks at the exceptions. Those who defend the anti-abortion violence of "exceptions" as a way to end abortion make the same error as those who defend vigilantes. And where does this kind of violence really get the pro-life movement? In 2008, South Dakota gratuitously added the so-called "exceptions" to their bill, yet even with this immoral change, President Bush still withheld his public support.
In 2008, in the nation's first-ever statewide personhood election, 618,000 Coloradans voted yes on Amendment 48, doubling the 12 percent or so that conventional wisdom claimed would support a total ban, and that was with opposition from most entrenched "pro-life" politicians and organizations. A year later, as reported by Jill Stanek, "Personhood initiatives proliferate[d]." And Personhood USA reports signature drives and legislative efforts in two dozen states with California, Nevada, Michigan and Florida being the latest to launch efforts. Thus this summer when the producers were researching the battle over abortion, they could not help but come across WND's landmark article from two years ago that anticipated the personhood movement: "'Personhood' silver bullet to kill Roe v. Wade?"
They're "persons." Not exceptions. In the past, the word for fetuses "L & O" would put into a pro-lifer's mouth would be babies, "save the babies." That's fine. But this time around there's a wider vocabulary, and a pro-life attorney on the show argues for the unborn, "in defense of other persons."
The two late-term abortionists in the episode are both depicted by the writers as fanatics, immoral and criminal, violating even New York's permissive abortion laws. The deceased was even guilty of infanticide, killing a baby who had survived the abortion attempt by stabbing him in the back of the neck. No wonder the left is apoplectic, as Kate Harding at Salon.com said, that we all should be able to hear "that sound … It's my head exploding." For half a century, liberals dismissed concern about Hollywood's message. "It's just make-believe." Hardly.
The producers based a nurse character apparently on a composite of real-life women, including Brenda Pratt Shafer and Dr. Beverly McMillan, both former abortion providers, and pro-lifer Jill Stanek, R.N., who exposed abortionists at Chicagoland's Christ Hospital after she saw them leave for dead a baby who had survived an abortion. On the program, an abortion clinic worker told the police they "had one nurse quit … because of the threats" from pro-lifers. But the nurse herself corrected the record, saying she quit because the abortionist murdered a baby after it was born.
The show's writers also described the peaceful protest group, which they named Mission for Life, whose members held a vigilante until police arrived. "We're against violence. We encourage [the moms] to get sonograms so they can see their baby's face, their tiny fingernails. We change more minds with love than with threats." That sentiment reflects the entire personhood movement.
Another influence from the personhood movement, one that is close to home for my family, occurs when a mom testified that doctors urged her to have an abortion. "I was in my sixth month. … My doctor … recommended I have a late-term abortion." In the show this mother did not have the abortion even though, "I knew my baby would die soon after her birth, but I wanted her death to be natural. I wanted her to die with dignity. … My beautiful daughter Amanda was born on May 5th. I never experienced such a sense of happiness when they put her in my arms. She had blue eyes, curly brown hair. She wasn't a monster, like the doctors warned me." Later, "one of the nurses woke me; she said it might be Amanda's time. When they brought her to me, Amanda was struggling to breathe. She didn't cry, or seem like she was in pain. I looked in her eyes, and I sang to her. I felt like she was comforted by my presence, like she could feel my love for her. She slipped away. My daughter was alive for 21 hours. … My daughter spent most of her life, peacefully in my arms. My husband and I felt honored we shared her life, happy she died with dignity. We mourned her life. After everything we went through, we felt clean."
A major character in the series, ADA Connie, played by Alana De La Garza, says, "I grew up thinking Roe v. Wade was gospel, and 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." And when urged to just do her job, she says, "Unfortunately, I can't leave my soul in the umbrella stand when I come in."
Cutter is warned not to refer to a fetus as a "baby," and he replies, "An unborn child is a life and a soul, to me. I can revert to PC in the courtroom, because it's my job. But I'm not going to do it in my own office." He suggests that we can "substitute slavery for abortion." And then in closing arguments he says, "We're dealing with an issue here that goes to the very mystery of our existence. What is life? When does it begin? … Despite all our differences, we are joined in one belief – that every life is special and unique, and imbued with inalienable rights."
DA Jack McCoy, played by Sam Waterston, says, "My daughter was pro-choice until she saw a sonogram of her unborn child." And later, "I used to expect people to be consistent. … I used to expect that [liberal] champions of human rights would claim some for the unborn. I don't expect that anymore."
Personhood is back, Jack. Expect a lot.
Brian Rohrbough is president of American Right To Life.