Oscars and abortion

March 30, 2000|By William F. Buckley Jr.

NON-AMATEUR WRITERS avoid industriously the word "Orwellian" because even years ago it became an overused and underdefined cliche.

But try to find another word for what Michael Caine came up with at the Oscar ceremony on Sunday after receiving a prize for his performance in "The Cider House Rules." That's the movie that's a paean to the abortion industry. And what the great actor said, when finally the thunderous ovation let him be heard, was, "I'm basically up here, guys, to represent you as what I hope you will all be, a survivor."

Well, George Orwell would have pondered that, all right, inasmuch as a survivor, in the context of the theme of that event, turns out to be somebody who was physically present at the Shrine Auditorium on Sunday, i.e., somebody who survived the mother's temptation to abort the fetus. That makes them survivors, does it not? So they are being applauded for surviving the practices celebrated by the movie ... That, ladies and gentlemen, is Orwellian.

Thirty-five hundred people in the audience, to judge from the applause, were all of them expressing their enthusiasm for what the author of the movie, John Irving, had said were the real heroes of the evening, Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Rights Action League.

Latecomers should know what "The Cider House Rules" is about, namely the ordeals and deportment of its first central figure, the same Michael Caine, who is the doctor/headmaster of the orphanage he presides over.

The orphanage is peopled with attractive children between the ages of, roughly, 5 and 12. The high moments in their lives are the visits of prospective adopting parents. Mr. and Mrs. Jones come in and look over the assortment of children, each one of whom hopes breathlessly that he/she will be chosen to have a home of his/her own. The Joneses decide on a particular boy or girl and drive off with their adopted offspring.

Those who didn't make it are left in the Cider House to continue their schooling until the next couple looking for a child arrives.

During this period one boy, who is not adopted by anyone, for reasons not made clear since he seems very attractive and personable, begins what amounts to an internship with the doctor/headmaster, acquiring such gynecological and obstetrical skills that, before you know it, he himself has conducted an abortion.

This makes him the hero, because abortion is the hero of "The Cider House Rules." (APPLAUSE!)

This is an interesting phenomenon. The people who crowded into the Shrine Auditorium are from a very choosy lot of people -- producers, directors, actors, musicians, writers. They want a child, if they want one at all, when they want one, not merely because a child was conceived.

Choosy parents can be, and indeed can be expected to be, loyal and affectionate, but their priorities are pretty much motivated by self-concern.

But the very planned parenthood idea isn't something that has taken hold only in the community of people who attended the ceremony. A few years ago I debated James Carville in front of an audience of several thousand students at the University of Oklahoma, and lo! the one point he made that brought down the house in approval was his insistence that a Democratic administration would more reliably protect the right to prevent births. These were 20-year-olds who found so appealing the idea of guarding against an unwanted child.

In "The Cider House Rules" what one most cared about was that the children be wanted, that the touring couple should take as many as possible into their homes and give them love and protection. Everyone in the audience who cheered was able to do so because that person's mother had elected not to extinguish life, but rather to nurture it. Every person applauding owed his/her life to the parent's determination to bring on a survivor of the abortion clinic.

That made for some artistic confusion, making heroes and heroines out of those whose determination to have children, rather than abort them, peopled the jubilant audience and the 10 million Americans who cheered on the movie that seemed to be celebrating a movement to reduce the audience, perhaps to the point where a generation or two down the line, the Shrine Auditorium would be only half-full, lucky survivors of otherwise categorically choosy parents.

William F. Buckley Jr. is a syndicated columnist.

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