Boston Legal's Balanced Look at Abortion

ABC's Boston Legal isn't known for promoting conservative values, but last night's episode provided a surprisingly nuanced examination of abortion.

The plot centered on a teenaged girl seeking a judicial bypass to obtain an abortion without her mother's consent.  Speaking through the 15-year-old character Kim, the writers built a case for abortion during a speech to the judge:   

I know I'm just a kid. I had unprotected sex. What better example is there of immaturity or recklessness? But I also know my family is poor. I will likely have to go on welfare like nearly 80 percent of teen mothers are forced to do. I will not be able to continue my education. I will not be able to provide for my child, give her a good education. I know the odds facing me. I know the odd facing this child should I carry her to term. And I believe terminating this pregnancy is in my best interest.

Kim's lawyer, the liberal Alan Shore, advanced a grotesque pro-abortion argument to his conservative friend and colleague Denny Crane: that it was “possible Roe v. Wade has brought our crime rates down” because “the very children more likely to grow up to become criminals” were aborted after abortion became legal in the '70s. 

The writers also allowed the pro-life character, Crane, to get his licks in.  Crane did not

want to take the case for fear the young girl would go to hell if she did have the abortion.  Crane also brought up the rights of the unborn, and challenged the use of the word fetus:

DENNY CRANE: What about the baby's best interest? Does that matter? Don't shove me!

ALAN SHORE: You listen to me right now. If you're gonna spew your politics all over this, I--

CRANE: Politics? A baby's politics?

SHORE: Denny, I respect your position on the issue. You need to respect the client's.

CRANE: No, I don't. she's a kid.

SHORE: Nevertheless, she has the right to choose—

CRANE: The--what about her responsibility?

SHORE: Look--

CRANE: What about the baby's right?

SHORE: The fetus doesn't have a legal--

CRANE: Fetus. Does that make it sound less human? Does that make it easier, like calling it a procedure instead of an abortion, or what it really is?

Later, when Shore expressed his concern to Crane that parental consent laws were “chipping away” at the Roe decision, Crane observed, “You pro-choice people, you need Roe vs. Wade. You're desperate for it, not because you're sure of your opinion, but because you're not. You need to cling to that ruling as moral validation for a position you're not entirely comfortable with deep down.”

Viewers also see Shore and his colleague Shirley Schmidt struggle with their pasts.  At one point, when Schmidt is wondering if they're right to engage in a fight against parental rights, she told Shore, “And I can also tell you from personal experience, anyone who has an abortion – you never get over it. Trust me. No matter how pro-choice.”  Later, when Schmidt attempts to recuse herself from Kim's case, an argument with Shore indicates that abortion carries long-term consequences for men too:

ALAN SHORE: What's your problem, Shirley?

SHIRLEY SCHMIDT: I told you my problem. I'm not comfortable.

SHORE: Are you comfortable with the government legislating abortion? Check that – outlawing it? Because that's the next step.

SCHMIDT: Oh, please.

SHORE: The Supreme Court already has the votes. Stevens is 88 years old. Once he goes-

SCHMIDT: This is not about politics, Alan.

SHORE: Of course it is. When--

SCHMIDT: No, it is not. When did you have your last abortion? Until you know everything that goes with it, don't you dare lecture me or anybody else—

SHORE:  I know what goes with it! Obviously I haven't experienced the physical part, but I know the overwhelming emotion that goes with it. I know the sense of loss, I know the doubt, the guilt. So please don't – Shirley, did it ever occur to you that one of the reasons I wanted you on this case is precisely bec—

SCHMIDT: Maybe we should both get out.

Shore finally admitted his own unease with abortion in this conversation with Crane following the judgment that granted Kim the bypass. 

SHORE: You know Denny, I am very pro-choice. I believe it's a woman's right. But from a scientific and human perspective, it's hard to argue that life doesn't begin at conception.  Even if it's only in organism form.  I suppose I am desperate for Roe to remain law, in part maybe to reaffirm my own moral position.   

CRANE: How many procedures were you a part of?


CRANE: And they um, haunt you?

SHORE: Let's just say they weigh on me.

CRANE: So legalized abortion might actually bring down the crime rate? Wow. Does that make it easier for you to feel okay about your procedures?


Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center