Tonight's Law & Order episode will be based on the murder of Dr. George Tiller: a late-term abortion provider is murdered while attending church. The episode, titled "Dignity," will have "some significant twists of plot and character, with police officers and assistant district attorneys sometimes taking forceful stands on one side of the abortion debate or the other, only to later express doubt when their involvement in the case becomes more personal."
Here's a preview, with commercials:
Dick Wolf, the producer of Law & Order says the episode will be a "balanced, thought-provoking drama about abortion." (Did you notice how they used the term "abortion-provider" in the preview instead of "abortionist"?)
Television has a pretty wimpy track record when it comes to covering abortion in a "balanced, thought-provoking way." Most women who face an unplanned pregnancy on TV are eventually convinced that keeping their baby is the right thing to do, and if they're not totally convinced, there's usually a cop-out situation, such as a miscarriage, to conveniently spare the woman from making a decision.
I'm intrigued by the Law & Order episode though, because the drama doesn't focus on a woman and an unplanned pregnancy, but on the murder of a provider of late-term abortions. They've had two episodes on abortion in the past; both dealt with the murders of activists: "Progeny" with the murder of an abortion provider and "Life Choice" the death of an anti-abortion activist in an abortion-center bombing.
But maybe it's misleading to say these episodes "deal with abortion." The shows seem to speak more about radical activism and hard party lines rather than a woman's personal experience with unplanned pregnancy. Given the lack of good representations of unplanned pregnancy on TV, approaching abortion from an activist angle could be a good way of discussing abortion in mainstream television. According to episode previews (see below), it seems like it's not going to be treated as a black-and-white issue, which I'm glad to hear. That being said, I still think it's important to keep abortion in a social sphere rather than a political sphere, because when it's framed in an entirely as a political issue, divorced from a woman's real-life experience, a lot of the more nuanced issues of abortion get lost in rhetoric.
Ken Tucker at Entertainment Weekly says that towards the end of the show, "the drama runs more deeply, more effectively, because characters behave like humans. They think and reconsider; they debate and shift their positions slightly, this way and that." Whether or not this will further instill abortion's depiction as an either/or situation or give it the nuanced, real-life context it deserves remains to be seen. If you watch it tonight be sure to comment your thoughts!
NBC's 'Law & Order' to Take on Abortion Issue [New York Times]