Does 'Swing Vote' Swing to the Right?

The high volume of pro-homosexual propaganda on today's entertainment television may have caused you to forget TV's once-frequent liberal preachments on that other hot-button social issue, abortion. To be sure, there was no galvanic, "pro-choice" equivalent of Ellen's coming-out. But for the past fifteen years, prime time's entertainment faucet has steadily dripped abortion advocacy.

The pro-abortion messages weren't subtle. A character on ABC's yuppie whinefest, "thirtysomething," lamented that in George Bush's "kinder, gentler America, [a pregnant woman] may not have a choice." NBC's "Law & Order" more than once caricatured pro-lifers as fanatics. The title character of CBS's "Murphy Brown" carried her pregnancy to term but nonetheless spouted copious quantities of strident pro-choice rhetoric.

Cable was, if anything, worse. In the election year of 1992, while committed pro-choicer Bill Clinton was on the road to the White House, two HBO films, "A Private Matter" and "Public Law 106," promoted abortion. Lifetime's 1995 "Choices of the Heart," about Margaret Sanger, lauded the Planned Parenthood founder's population-control crusade (while ignoring the racist foundation of her doctrine).

Interestingly enough, the mid-'90s brought, if only momentarily, somewhat more respect for life in the womb. During the 1993-'94 season on Fox's "Beverly Hills, 90210" and ABC's "NYPD Blue," characters contemplated abortion but, in the end, decided against it. Though neither show went so far as to affirm a broad pro-life ethic, the right-to-life argument was given a fair hearing.

Then a 1996 ABC film, "A Case for Life," featured a woman's attorney using Roe v. Wade in a successful attempt to stop her husband and doctor from forcing her to have an abortion.

Only Hollywood could contrive that plot, but it indicates that more and more, abortion is making the entertainment industry uncomfortable. While it still pushes the right to abortion, it no longer champions the righteousness of abortion. This is a critical distinction, and one which augurs well for the pro-life cause.

Now comes the April 19 ABC movie "Swing Vote," Hollywood's latest contribution to the debate. It's set after Roe v. Wade has been overturned, resulting in a society where states are allowed to enact their own abortion laws. An Alabama woman has been convicted of first-degree murder for having an abortion; the Supreme Court has decided to bypass the usual appeals process and consider the case right away.

After a conference in which various justices state pointed views on both sides of the question, it emerges that Joseph Kirkland (Andy Garcia) will be the swing vote in the case. The fortyish Kirkland, who's just been appointed to the Court, insists that ultimately he will support not the liberal or conservative position, but rather "what's right." He is presented as independent, rational, fair - someone who will transcend ideology and heal a country profoundly divided over this issue.

Until its final few minutes, the movie is largely evenhanded. The pro-life side is given two major scenes; a passionate anti-abortion plea by the birth mother of Kirkland's adopted daughter is especially effective. Sadly, the climax of "Swing Vote" loses all pretense of balance. In the Court's ruling, Kirkland, reading before his fellow justices and a chamber containing pro-life and pro-choice activists, says that balancing the right to life and the right to choose means that states may not prohibit abortion until after the twentieth week of pregnancy. "The choice," he explains, "should be free, but not easy." Kirkland was appointed by a Republican president, but his abortion opinion would pass muster with Mr. Safe, Legal, and Rare himself, Clinton.

And, in a twist best described as Frank Capra on peyote, after Kirkland finishes reading the decision, two previously pro-life justices are so moved by his glorious reasoning that they suddenly, dramatically announce they've switched to his side, changing the 5-4 vote to 7-2. As the movie ends, America is pretty much unified again, except for those hardcore, fanatical anti-choicers, and really, what chance do they have against the pro-choice leadership of the brainy, compassionate (and handsome!) Justice Kirkland?

The film also implies that no matter one's philosophical stand on abortion, it's pragmatically unthinkable not to legalize it. "Swing Vote," while not a disaster, is a disappointment. The day when we can plausibly dream that a made-for-TV movie will detail Norma McCorvey's transformation from Roe v. Wade plaintiff to pro-life activist perhaps is closer than it was ten years ago. But it's not terribly close.