Pro-life arguments find new medium

Published 9:42 pm Friday, October 6, 2006

“Nip/Tuck” is one of the most risque shows on television. The cable drama — about the escapades of two Miami plastic surgeons — has it all: beautiful people, pretty much every deadly sin and vice. But in one main storyline in its season premiere earlier this month, “Nip/Tuck” was positively dichotomous, positively pro-life.

When the pregnant Julia is told her baby faces a heightened risk of deformity she doesn’t tell her husband, figuring they didn’t need any more drama — they had recently broken up, gotten back together, and experienced other soap-operatic complications. She relies on her hopes that everything will be fine.

But then everything isn’t. She learns that their unborn son has ectrodactyly — he’ll have malformed hands and/or feet. By the time she tells the baby’s father, she has already decided she’s having her baby. Sean, after getting over the shock that the information had been withheld from him, gives her and their unborn son his full support. Yet in the confidence of his best friend and business partner he admits that had he known earlier, he would have wanted to abort the child. As he makes this admission, the pain is evident in his whole body; his shame clear.

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It might be the unlikeliest forum for a pro-life debate, as the show has long been the target (for good reason) of conservative scorn for the what founder of Media Research Center L. Brent Bozell calls, “utter depravity of its sensationalism.” But this particular episode offers an opportunity to consider the under-reported fact that some 85 percent of American unborn-children with Down Syndrome are believed to be aborted. Down syndrome is certainly disappearing, but it’s not because anyone’s cured it.

For a long time abortion has been taboo on old-fashioned daytime soap operas. An article not long ago in Soap Opera Digest noted that at that point, after six decades, “a genre known — and often lauded for — tackling controversial social issues first (had featured) exactly six abortions.” The article’s author put this in sudsy perspective: “There were more characters who came back from the dead in this year alone.” There’s a reason for that: People are uncomfortable with abortion. People feel the pain, and want to be kind to those who find themselves in tough, frightening situations — but most don’t desire or instinctively support abortion.

For that reason, I can’t imagine “Nip/Tuck” playing a storyline like this any other way than pro-life. A casual, thoughtless abortion would have turned off the audience, a natural revulsion. And by showing this reticence, “Nip/Tuck” — whether its writers intended it or not — has done a public service. It speaks to those in pain; it makes the normal feel normal. And it reflects where we are better than most political speeches ever could.

The United States has neither a decided pro-life nor a pro-choice majority, but folks are leaning toward wanting some restrictions on abortion. There’s room for compromise — for persuasion and common ground. But there is also a place for shame. Shame that comes from the fact that the majority of Down Syndrome children are aborted. “Nip/Tuck” gives a stat like that some humanity.

As painful as life with adversity will be for Julia and Sean’s son and for those who love him, he is someone’s child worthy of protection, who possesses great potential and gifts to give like the rest of us, and deserves love.

(Kathryn Lopez is the editor of National Review Online ( She can be contacted at