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A Private Matter

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A Private Matter
Film poster
Written by William Nicholson
Directed by Joan Micklin Silver
Starring Sissy Spacek
Aidan Quinn
William H. Macy
Estelle Parsons
Theme music composerJames Newton Howard
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
Executive producer(s)Ronnie D. Clemmer
Lindsay Doran
Bill Pace
Sydney Pollack
Producer(s)David C. Thomas
Cynthia Fitzpatrick
CinematographyPaul Elliott
Editor(s)Rick Shaine
Distributor HBO
Original networkHBO
Picture formatColor
Original release
  • June 20, 1992 (1992-06-20)(USA)

A Private Matter is a 1992 American made-for-television drama film based on the true 1962 story of Sherri Finkbine, a resident of Phoenix, Arizona in the first trimester of her fifth pregnancy. She was the popular hostess of the locally produced children's television show Romper Room .

A television film is a feature-length motion picture that is produced and originally distributed by or to, a television network, in contrast to theatrical films, which are made explicitly for initial showing in movie theaters.

In film and television, drama is a genre of narrative fiction intended to be more serious than humorous in tone. Drama of this kind is usually qualified with additional terms that specify its particular subgenre, such as "police crime drama", "political drama", "legal drama", "historical period drama", "domestic drama", or "comedy-drama". These terms tend to indicate a particular setting or subject-matter, or else they qualify the otherwise serious tone of a drama with elements that encourage a broader range of moods.

Sherri Finkbine is an American former children's television host. She is known locally as Miss Sherri, her role on the Phoenix version of the franchised children's show Romper Room. In 1962, Finkbine became a subject of controversy when she sought an abortion after discovering that the thalidomide she had been taking caused serious fetal deformities when used in early stages of pregnancy.


She was taking the drug thalidomide—a drug that was, at one time, commonly given to pregnant women in order to alleviate morning sickness and other uncomfortable symptoms associated with pregnancy. In the early 1960s, it became known that the use of thalidomide while pregnant caused significant deformities to the fetus. Sherri expressed concerns about the well-being of her own baby, and consulted with her physician who scheduled a legal, therapeutic abortion at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix. [2]

Thalidomide chemical compound

Thalidomide, sold under the brand name Immunoprin, among others, is an immunomodulatory drug and the prototype of the thalidomide class of drugs. Today, thalidomide is used mainly as a treatment of certain cancers and of a complication of leprosy.

Pregnancy time when children develop inside the mothers body before birth

Pregnancy, also known as gestation, is the time during which one or more offspring develops inside a woman. A multiple pregnancy involves more than one offspring, such as with twins. Pregnancy can occur by sexual intercourse or assisted reproductive technology. Childbirth typically occurs around 40 weeks from the last menstrual period (LMP). This is just over nine months, where each month averages 31 days. When measured from fertilization it is about 38 weeks. An embryo is the developing offspring during the first eight weeks following fertilization, after which, the term fetus is used until birth. Symptoms of early pregnancy may include missed periods, tender breasts, nausea and vomiting, hunger, and frequent urination. Pregnancy may be confirmed with a pregnancy test.

A fetus or foetus is the unborn offspring of an animal that develops from an embryo. Following embryonic development the fetal stage of development takes place. In human prenatal development, fetal development begins from the ninth week after fertilisation and continues until birth. Prenatal development is a continuum, with no clear defining feature distinguishing an embryo from a fetus. However, a fetus is characterized by the presence of all the major body organs, though they will not yet be fully developed and functional and some not yet situated in their final anatomical location.

Abortion was illegal in Arizona in the 1960s, but exceptions were made if the mother’s life was at risk, and under this exception, abortions were performed in hospitals regularly. The Finkbines scheduled an abortion, but when Sherri’s story was picked up by the media it created a media firestorm. An acquaintance who worked for the Arizona Republic had asked Sherri, on a promise of anonymity, to share her story. Sherri agreed, hoping that by doing so she could warn other women about the dangers of thalidomide. Her identity was exposed, however, and her private decision was soon subjected to public scrutiny. The film shows the harassment the family went through as they went through various appeals as they sought to obtain abortion services. [3]

The hospital refused the use of their facilities for an abortion so Finkbine filed a lawsuit to compel the use of Good Samaritan Hospital. A public and bitter struggle ensued, culminating with Finkbine terminating her pregnancy in Sweden. [4]

Sweden constitutional monarchy in Northern Europe

Sweden, officially the Kingdom of Sweden, is a Scandinavian Nordic country in Northern Europe. It borders Norway to the west and north and Finland to the east, and is connected to Denmark in the southwest by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund, a strait at the Swedish-Danish border. At 450,295 square kilometres (173,860 sq mi), Sweden is the largest country in Northern Europe, the third-largest country in the European Union and the fifth largest country in Europe by area. Sweden has a total population of 10.2 million of which 2.4 million has a foreign background. It has a low population density of 22 inhabitants per square kilometre (57/sq mi). The highest concentration is in the southern half of the country.

The movie premiered on HBO on June 20, 1992. [1] It was noted at the time of the movie's release that U.S. network television had shied away from stories dealing with abortion. [5]


Sissy Spacek American actress and singer

Mary Elizabeth "Sissy" Spacek is an American actress and singer. She is the recipient of various accolades including an Academy Award, three Golden Globe Awards, two Critics' Choice Movie Awards, a Screen Actors Guild Award and nominations for four BAFTA Awards, three Primetime Emmy Awards, a Grammy Award.

Aidan Quinn American actor

Aidan Quinn is an Irish-American actor, who made his film debut in Reckless (1984). He has starred in over 40 feature films, including Desperately Seeking Susan (1985), The Mission (1986), Stakeout (1987), Avalon (1990), Benny & Joon (1993), Legends of the Fall (1994), Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (film) (1994), Blink (1994), Michael Collins (1996), Practical Magic (1998), Song for a Raggy Boy (2003), and Unknown (2011).

Estelle Parsons American actress

Estelle Margaret Parsons is an American actress, singer and stage director.

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  1. 1 2 Quindlen, Anna (18 June 1992). A Private Matter, The Baltimore Sun , Retrieved November 16, 2010
  2. (14 June 1992). A Private Matter'; Sherri Finkbine's 1962 Abortion, The Washington Post , Retrieved November 16, 2010
  3. "Sherri Finkbine’s Abortion: Its Meaning 50 Years Later" [Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona], 15 August 2012, http://blog.advocatesaz.org/2012/08/15/sherri-finkbines-abortion-its-meaning-50-years-later/
  4. Tucker, Ken (19 June 1992). A Private Matter, Entertainment Weekly , Retrieved November 16, 2010
  5. Kogan, Rick (19 June 1992) The Finkbine case HBO's `A Private Matter' steps in where networks fear to tread, Chicago Tribune , Retrieved November 16, 2010