Politics & Policy

Aborting Dead-end Debate

Facing Reality about abortion.

“Emotionally, it’s tough.”

That’s the completely accurate and totally understated description of what a woman goes through when choosing to exercise her legal right to “terminate” a pregnancy — and it comes from Dr. William Harrison, an abortion provider. But his understatement underscores the raw emotion and honest testimony that are also on display in the new Fox News Channel documentary, Facing Reality, about abortion in America.

Harrison also says that he announces to his patients that abortion is “really not going to be nearly as bad as they anticipate,” and declares that “I’m not in the business of murdering children. I’m in the business of saving the lives of my patients.” But this attitude of his is in marked contrast to the realities depicted during the hour-long program. (Twenty-year-old Kayla, for example, knows her life was never endangered by her pregnancies. A baby would crimp her style, to be sure, but hers isn’t the life ended by the end of the show.)

The gynecologist’s comments are drowned out by the sound of tears and the stark details of an abortion chamber. And the rich details of a sonogram, and the sound of hope in a mom and dad’s voices. And the faux-confident tone of a beauty-school student who claims to have no regrets just often enough to make you question. And the desperate cry for help of a drug addict, dating a drug addict, on her seventh pregnancy at 30.

In Facing Reality, viewers are introduced to three women, one husband, one healthy toddler, a few grandparents in limbo, and a number of children whose fates are the ultimate reality behind the loaded word “choice.”

The first women we meet is Kayla Miller, who’s doing her hair. Kayla’s a cool-with-the-world 20-year-old who, we learn, grew up as a southern Baptist with a chastity ring. When she got pregnant she “thought Billy really cared about me.” But he was being “hateful” and resenting her for letting it happen. Ultimately, we wind up at the Fayetteville Women’s Clinic with Kayla. There had been a first, failed attempt at abortion: The father had cried, he couldn’t go through with it. WHATEV. Kayla went back and did it anyway.

But her ostensible confidence is betrayed by the camera’s Kayla’s-eye-view of the abortion chamber, as Kayla is heard crying uncontrollably. “It all kinda really comes down on you on one point laying on that bed, looking up at the ceiling, and seeing white but thinking everything. It’s really emotional.”

Far from sure of herself, she’s not at all sure of anything. She’s on her second abortion and when she’s we’re supposed to believe she’s O.K. with how it all turned out in the end (that’s what she tells us). But she was also pretty happy about the (second) surprise pregnancy at the top of the show, looking forward to having a baby at the same time as her also-knocked-up roommate. Sometime after registering at Babies R Us and buying cocoa butter, both wind up having abortions.

“All my life I have been so pro-life and I never encouraged abortion, I never said I would have one. But you never know until you’re in the situation. It was hard but it was the right choice.”

As okay-with-it as she tries to sound, Kayla recognizes, on some level she didn’t just make a choice like you choose what color highlights to get. Kayla tells us, “It’s really emotional. I was still losing a baby. Well, not a life, but I was still losing that part of me.”

Variety praised Facing Reality for being actually fair and balanced on the network that claims that tag line. Facing Reality is not heavy-handed. As Fox host E. D. Hill declares in her intro to the show, “tonight you won’t hear expert commentary, or partisan shouting, or even anyone claiming to have answers. Instead, Fox News has spent the past year looking beyond the pitched political battles to the human reality.” But it’s also hard not to come away from it thinking, among other things, that these women deserve better. They deserve better than being told abortion is not as bad as they anticipate. They deserve a life better than looking for fulfillment through sleeping around. They deserve better than being called by a doctor and told, “She’s got it [Trisomy 18, a genetic disorder]. Want to terminate?” as Brooke was. Her story of her and her husband Todd’s love for their daughter, Marlee, who died about 20 minutes before she was delivered, is bound to touch lives and open wounds.

Facing Reality raises questions, without even explicitly doing so. I know it’s conservatives who don’t care about children once they’re born, but why don’t NOW and friends focus more on getting Jeanne the help she needs — through private charity and encouragement — to straighten up her life and that of her children (none of whom she lives with) instead of expending so much energy on that quick fix that doesn’t really fix anything? One wonders.

With its honesty, Facing Reality only heightens the desire for compassionate, grounded conversations about alternatives to abortion — and about help for vulnerable women (which describes all the women we meet) in need.

The most haunting line of the documentary may have come from Dr. Harrison. His first sentence to the audience: “I’ve done an abortion on a nine-year-old and I’ve done an abortion on a 54-year-old and all between.” Nine? It’s bad enough for twenty- and thirtysomethings, as the hour demonstrates for anyone heretofore desensitized to the pain of abortion.

Human life deserves better than a lot of what passes for abortion debate. Facing Reality shows how it can be done.


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