An emotionally charged drama about two sisters divided by their views on abortion, "A Case for Life" refuses to take the easy way out, presenting a difficult situation and giving a full airing to all sides. Stripped-down direction by Eric Laneuville keeps the story moving without skipping over facts or feelings.

An emotionally charged drama about two sisters divided by their views on abortion, “A Case for Life” refuses to take the easy way out, presenting a difficult situation and giving a full airing to all sides. Stripped-down direction by Eric Laneuville keeps the story moving without skipping over facts or feelings.

Slowish introductory passage, set at a rally outside a women’s clinic, establishes the loving yet divided relationship between Liz(Mel Harris) and Kelly (Valerie Bertinelli). Kelly getsarrested for blockading the entrance to the clinic; Liz goes to visit her in jail, but they end up in what appears to be a long-running argument about abortion.

Liz, a lawyer, is married and childless by choice. Kelly has four kids and, it turns out, another on the way. She and loving husband Bob (a sympathetic Brian McNamara) are thrilled, until Kelly’s sudden propensity for passing out is diagnosed as pericardial constriction, a life-threatening heart condition.

Kelly’s doc (Lawrence Pressman) recommends a therapeutic abortion so Kelly can have the open-heart surgery she needs to save her life, but she refuses.

Raised by religious parents (Georgeanne Johnson, Richard Herd) opposed to abortion, Liz is sympathetic to her sister, but urges her to have the abortion. Finally, a worrying Bob agrees with Liz and the two take Kelly to court to force her to have the abortion; they cite the rights of the four “born” children to have their mother present as greater than the rights of the “unborn” child.

Pic is constructed as a jousting match between the two women, who get up on their high horses and fight almost to the death.

Bertinelli does the best she can with a somewhat one-dimensional character. Harris is excellent, delivering a shaded, passionate perf. McNamara and Herd are strong, portraying the conflict between the men’s ideals and their love for her. Pressman is the picture of rationality as Kelly’s doctor.

Script by Vickie Patik is tautly constructed and scrupulously balanced. A few scenes don’t ring true, such as when Liz counsels Bob on how to treat the baby when it’s born. (Besides, no small child would ever utter the grammatically complex sentence, “How was I to know?”) And the role of Liz’s husband is so underwritten as to make it unnecessary. Overall, however, writing is realistic and uncontrived.

Tech credits are fine.

The ABC Sunday Night Movie: A Case for Life

Sun. (18), 9-11 p.m., ABC

Production

Filmed in Los Angeles by Walter Mirisch Prods. in association with Victor Television. Exec producer, Walter Mirisch; supervising producer, Vickie Patik; producer, Anthony Santa Croce; director, Eric Laneuville; writer, Patik.

Crew

Camera, Paul Elliott; editor, Tony Gibbs; production design, Daniel Lomino; music, Dana Kaproff.

Cast

With: Valerie Bertinelli, Mel Harris, Brian McNamara, William Bumiller, Georgeanne Johnson, Richard Herd, Vincent Berry, Ryanne Kettner, Paige Kettner, Miles Marisco, Gregg Almquist, Lawrence Pressman, Larry Cedar, Jenny O'Hara, Mark L. Taylor.

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