PUBLIC LAW 106:
THE BECKY BELL STORY
Filmed in 1992 by Turtleback Prods. and the Entertainment Group. Producers, Frank Doelger, Howard Meltzer; supervising producer, Jason Goodman; senior producer, Barbara Chacon; director, Juan Jose Campanella; writer, Bruce Harmon; camera, Daniel Shuman; editor, Darren Kloomok; production designer, Paola Ridoli; sound, Paul Cote; music, Wendy Blackstone.
Cast: Dina Spybey, Chelsea Altman, Debra Monk, Craig Wasson, Spike Alexander, Lily Knight, Jim Abele, Tom Brennan, Ben Jorgensen, Susan Pellegrino.
Hour spec, which looks at minors’ abortion decisions vs. parental consent laws, features a brief film (in which Dina Spybey sweetly plays real-life 17 -year-old Becky Bell), followed by a panel discussion and audience participation seg hosted by Gabrielle Carteris. Confusing and conflicting opinions are brought to light, but the involving program could hardly be called objective.
The film, trimmed down from a ’92 HBO “Lifestyles: Families in Crisis” seg, dramatizes the plight of Becky, living with her Indiana family when she discovers she’s pregnant.
Her parents, in whom she’s frightened to confide, suspect nothing; her boyfriend blames her; her best friend (Chelsea Altman) rallies to help her, and she talked with a counselor, but she’s still alone.
Whole point is that, according to the counselor, underage Becky would have to confront a judge, if not her parents, to plead for an abortion (Planned Parenthood is mentioned prominently in the credits). The loving parents don’t even get a chance.
Becky, out on a limb, discards keeping the baby or putting it up for adoption. “I hear these terrible things that happen to babies,” she murmurs, and there’s no dissension. Becky seems to have little choice but to go to a backstreet abortionist, where she contracts a deadly illness.
Docu presents good discussions of legal issues about abortions, and Becky’s real-life parents appear on the talk seg to air views on consent about teenagers. Present laws in 38 states require minors to involve their parents in abortion decisions, but the tough part is telling the parents in the first place , as a lawyer wisely points out.
Several times, Carteris talks about a woman’s right to care for her baby, but Becky’s not yet 18.
Carteris seems intent on showing abortion possibilities, and the lawyer says, “So what we’re talking here is about saving lives, stopping back-alley abortions and helping young people.” But there’s a hard edge of one-sideness in the discussions surrounding the vidpic that brings Becky to her sorry ending.
As a strong point of info for teenagers and their parents, the hour — the third in a series of 10 such spex on teen problems — demonstrates one option. Talking it over with advisers who might have other points of view, however, might alert young viewers to the difficulties involved in parental consent laws.
It could also flash a warning about the dangers of intimacy without protection and even suggest abstinence. The impressionable Becky might have had a happier, and longer, life in any case.