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The "A" Word On Film 

Not surprisingly, over the years, the movie industry has chosen to largely steer clear of the controversial subject of abortion. Some studios and directors, nonetheless, have joined the fray. Here are 10 titles bold enough to address the issue in one form or another.

Where Are My Children? (1916). A district attorney (Tyrone Power Sr., father of the 40s matinee idol) is horrified to learn that his socialite wife and her friends have all had abortions. Although the movie is stridently anti-abortion, it was still banned in several communities upon its release.

Men In White (1934). Clark Gable stars as a compassionate doctor whose list of patients includes a woman recovering from a back alley abortion. The film was made right before the Production Code stifled controversy in cinema, though that didn't stop the moral watchdogs of the day from condemning it.

Detective Story (1951). Cop Kirk Douglas' main adversary in this gritty drama is a shady doctor (George Macready) who performs illegal abortions on the side -- a scenario that turns even more explosive once the detective learns that his own wife (Eleanor Parker) was a former client.

A Place In the Sun (1951). Social climber Montgomery Clift has the hots for gorgeous debutante Elizabeth Taylor but ends up impregnating dowdy working girl Shelley Winters. After their attempts at securing an abortion fail, he decides the next best option is to murder her.

Alfie (1966). A smooth operator (a superb Michael Caine) lives only to woo women, but matters become more complicated when one of his conquests (Vivien Merchant) gets knocked up. The subsequent abortion sequence emerged as a hot topic in its day, though the film overcame any initial controversy to emerge as a major hit. (See this issue's Film section for a review of the new Alfie.)

Absence of Malice (1981). One of the key plot developments in Sydney Pollack's crackerjack film about journalistic integrity (or the lack thereof) involves the fate of an honest businessman's (Paul Newman) close friend (Melinda Dillon). The woman, a devout Catholic, had an abortion following an unplanned pregnancy, leading to tragedy when an overzealous reporter (Sally Field) gets hold of the story.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) / The Last American Virgin (1982). Go figure that two coming-of-age teen flicks from the same year would address the issue in a serious fashion. In each film, a sweet, trusting high school girl (Jennifer Jason Leigh and Diane Franklin, respectively) finds herself pregnant after a tryst with a smooth-talking creep. Both girls opt for an abortion (handled sensitively in both pictures), but while one grows from her experience, the other ends up back with the same guy!

Citizen Ruth (1996). Before Election and About Schmidt, writer-director Alexander Payne and co-scripter Jim Taylor created this biting satire that lambasted both sides of the abortion debate. Laura Dern stars as the ignorant, homeless, drug-addicted -- oh, and pregnant -- Ruth Stoops, who finds herself caught in the middle of some heated rhetoric between dueling gangs of pro-lifers and pro-choicers. Burt Reynolds pops up as the spiritual leader of the Baby Savers outfit.

The Cider House Rules (1999). Michael Caine, coming full circle from Alfie, this time plays the doctor who performs the abortions in this adaptation of John Irving's novel (with a script written by the author himself). Both men won Oscars for their efforts, although the right-to-life crowd objected to the manner in which Tobey Maguire's character -- who's strongly opposed to abortions -- comes around to seeing things the doctor's way by the final reel.

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