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Jewish World Review Nov.17, 2000 /19 Mar-Cheshvan 5761

Cal Thomas

Cal Thomas
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Truth on television --
TELEVISION has been rightly criticized for failing to address important subjects in a balanced way and when it does, it too often preaches a one-dimensional, mostly left-leaning perspective that reflects the bias of the writer, actors and/or producer.

This Sunday night (Nov. 19), one TV series dares to offer something different. "Touched By An Angel'' (CBS 8 p.m. EST) presents a profound and powerful program about abortion. It's called, "The Empty Chair.'' Actually, the plot is more about a decision that led to an abortion and the delayed personal and professional consequences which followed.

Betsy and Bud Baxter have hosted a local morning television show in Omaha, Neb., for 12 years, exactly as long as they have been married. They came to Omaha from Boston, hoping to establish themselves and then hit the big time, but the big time never called.

The Baxters get some bad news when management informs them the station has been sold and the new owners have cancelled their show. What follows is a sensitive, but profound unpeeling of the layers the couple has wrapped around themselves in order not to have to deal with a decision both of them made for the sake of their careers. Betsy Baxter had an abortion just before they left Boston. A baby would have interfered with their plans. The unexpected end of their show has forced the issue back to the surface and the "angels'' are on hand to help them sort it out.

It would have been easy for Executive Producer Martha Williamson to get preachy, but she resists that temptation. Realizing that her audience is full of millions of women (and men) who may be struggling with guilt and depression for having made a similar choice, her script leads, it doesn't push, and it makes a point of not judging.

The show exposes some of the consequences that can come from an abortion, a perspective hardly ever dealt with in the media. And, for the first time I can remember on an entertainment program, it mentions "PACE,'' which stands for Post Abortion Counseling and Education, a nonjudgmental program for women who have had abortions and need help dealing with the emotional and spiritual fallout they were told they wouldn't have by the people who sold them the procedure.

The most profound and honest moment of the show comes when Betsy, addressing the angel named Monica (Roma Downey), says, "You know, Monica, they can talk all they want to about politics and choices and rights. I did. And then you're in that room and you're putting your clothes back on and you know that when you walk out that door, you're leaving a piece of your soul behind that you'll never, ever get back.''

This is the voice of a woman, women really, one does not get to hear. This is a voice with which many women who have had abortions will be able to identify. Betsy and Bud get into a shouting match as they try to deal with their long-suppressed emotions. Bud poignantly says, "Ironic, isn't it? You make all these plans for the future, and then one day it's the wrong future, and you don't have what you sacrificed for.''

Monica asks Betsy if she's ever heard of post-abortion syndrome -- difficulty in sleeping, difficulty with intimacy, workaholism, inability to relax, to bond with children, with husbands. Betsy says, "Maybe that's just the price you pay,'' to which Monica replies, "No. It's a consequence of a choice but it's not a punishment from G-d. That's not how He works.''

I won't spoil the ending, but this is television worth watching and it is healing worth having for people wounded by abortion who see nothing in the media which addresses their hurt.

How does Martha Williamson know so much about this subject to write such an insightful script? Because, like many women of her generation (and many of this one) she had an abortion. In a way, this is her penance as she helps other women deal with it, and she would hope, not have one. It comes at a time when she and her husband complete the adoption of a child someone wanted enough to give away so that this child and her new parents would all have a chance to truly live.

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