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On Anniversary of Roe v. Wade Decision, Law & Order: SVU Depicts Pro-Lifers as Hypocrites and Criminals

Tuesday's episode of Law & Order: SVU portrayed a couple associated with a pro-life organization stealing frozen embryos from a fertility clinic in a fruitless effort to save them from destruction.

NBC just happened to air the episode on January 22, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.   In the episode, the resolution of the case occurred on January 22 as well.  Coincidence?


SVU writers portrayed the perpetrators, Victoria and James Grall, as hypocritical activists suffering from a shortage of brain cells.  The Gralls steal the embryos from the clinic because some are slated for destruction, but ironically the theft results in the death of all the embryos when the liquid nitrogen used to keep them frozen evaporates.

In a twist of irony, James Grall, the pro-life activist, is killed by a man whose hope for a child was dashed when the embryos thaw and die. 

The first time viewers meet the Gralls, before they are exposed as the perpetrators, the couple is holding a press conference outside of the clinic.  The writers portray them as opportunists exploiting a tragedy to bring attention to their cause:

VICTORIA: Fertility clinics are death camps.

JAMES: People have a big problem with Nazis practicing eugenics, but no one's bothered that doctors determine which embryos are the purest and then destroy all the rest.

VICTORIA: Or donate them to stem cell research.

JAMES: It's genocide.

DET. ELLIOT STABLER: Give us a minute. Turn off the camera.

DET. OLIVIA BENSON: Who are you?

JAMES: James and Victoria Grall with the VDL.

BENSON: I'm sorry, I'm not familiar.

VICTORIA: The Values Defense League.

STABLER: You just admitted on camera that you had a personal vendetta against this clinic.

BENSON: Which was recently vandalized. Was that somebody from your group?

JAMES: You obviously didn't see the beginning of our press conference.

STABLER: Yeah, well, so did most of the press.

JAMES: We believe that life begins at conception. Embryos are human beings. We wouldn't hurt a single one.

VICTORIA: Now, we made an appeal that whoever took them return them to us, no questions asked.

BENSON: Which would make you an accessory after the fact.

VICTORIA: No, no, we're gonna return them here.

BENSON: Back to the place that you consider a death camp.

JAMES: We'd like people to consider adopting the extra unwanted embryos and then bringing them to term. Because donation is always an option. There's no reason a single one ever has to be destroyed.

NBC goes further, presenting Christians not only as unsympathetic hypocrites but also as prejudiced.  In the following exchange, Victoria attempts to explain to the detectives about adopting unwanted embryos and is painted as an anti-homosexual bigot:  

VICTORIA: People need to be told that there are organizations out there that will arrange for the adoption of unwanted embryos.

DETECTIVE CHESTER LAKE: That's great, especially for all those gay and lesbian couples in the market.

VICTORIA: They're only put in suitable homes.

DETECTIVE ODAFIN “FIN” TUTULOA: Straight, Christian, and white.

VICTORIA: We're not racist. There are Christians of all colors.

It's worth noting that the detectives viewed the recovery of the stolen container like a missing child case, and raced against time to save the embryos.  Detective Benson's desire to be a mother was palpable in every scene and not locating the embryos in time to save them obviously weighed heavily upon her.  A doctor at the clinic also offered a glimpse as to why clinics such as his are a “booming business:” “Women are putting off having children longer and longer now, especially those with careers.  Some wait too long. And for these women with limited time, these embryos are extremely valuable.”

Echoing the doctor's sentiment, clinic patient and theft victim Eva said “I got caught up in my career, and time just... got away from me, you know? I was in complete denial about my biological clock. And then I got cancer.” 

These positive aspects of the episode make the portrayal of pro-life activists that much more disappointing.  But then again, footage of pro-life activists peaceably praying or demonstrating, in other words accurate depictions, may not make riveting television. 

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