On Monday, January 30, at 8 p.m. channel 17, and the P.B.S. station in Buffalo, broadcast a film called “Abortion Clinic.” An hour later, channel 5, the C.B.S. station in Toronto broadcast an episode of a situation comedy called “Buffalo Bill,” in which the same subject, abortion, was an integral part of the plot. Watching the two shows serially was instructive and shocking for this viewer.
“Abortion Clinic” shows some of the circumstances and people involved in two abortions done in a clinic in Pennsylvania. The pro-life side is depicted through interviews with an advocate doctor and two mothers (one of whom was raped) who decide to carry their pregnancies to term with the help of a center run by the doctor.
On the strength of one viewing I would say “Abortion Clinic” is not a pro-abortion film, in the sense that there is an obvious attempt to present both sides dispassionately and let them speak for themselves. However, the film distorts, necessarily perhaps because of the limitations of the medium, the sense of process, which is fundamental to a real picture of what is going on. Thus we do not see from the doctor’s point of view what he is doing (a view to be contrasted with films of childbirth which are quite explicit in this regard), nor do we see what happens to the aborted human life once it is put in a container and carried down a hallway. There is also no follow-up on the lives of the women who have had the abortions; instead their interviews before the abortions are shown. My own reaction to watching the terrible sadness engulfing everyone involved, was that it is a grim, pathetic, and horrible experience in which no woman should want or have to involve herself.
Turning to “Buffalo Bill” and its supposedly comic treatment of abortion right after the film was another shock. The minds that contrived this program managed to trivialize their subject matter so completely that it is difficult to describe how debased their efforts were. The program was another tragic index of how shallow and meaningless so much of North American popular culture is.
Brigid Elson is a teacher living in Toronto.