"Abortion Clinic," the latest episode of the PBS documentary series "Frontline With Jessica Savitch," tonight at 8 on Channel 26, is a curiously dispassionate and, in the end, unsuccessful attempt to depict the anguish of the abortion decision.
Its promos call it a "frank and compelling look at the highly charged subject," and it is at least frank, in the sense that it films two abortion procedures in clinical detail.
However, in the choice of the four pregnant women who must decide whether to have an abortion, or in the way they are interviewed and portrayed, the program somehow loses its compulsion. None of the women is especially articulate, and their reasons for considering abortion at all are almost uniformly financial.
Considering that "Frontline" researchers spent several months in and around the Chester, Pa., private abortion clinic that performs about 3,000 abortions a year, it seems odd that there was not even a reference to such reasons for abortion as potential genetic problems like Tay-Sachs disease or Down's syndrome. And three of the four women are single, white and young. "That's because," says Savitch in her introduction, "the majority of women who make this decision are single, white, young."
Two of the four women are dissuaded from their abortions by a passionately anti-abortion internist who pickets the center every weekend. He waylays those entering with lectures accompanied by a lifelike model of a 10-week old fetus, distinctly human. He describes in graphic detail how some abortion procedures either "tear the baby to pieces" or "burn their skin," but it isn't really clear that the Chester Reproductive Counseling Center uses these procedures.
In any case, the program fails to live up to its pledge to go beyond the rhetoric and politics of this country's most divisive issue. There is agony, of course, and anguish--but it is more talked about than experienced.