Dana Delany followed her own heart in the filming of 'Choices'


For Dana Delany, star of Lifetime's "Choices of the Heart: The Margaret Sanger Story," the title of the made-for-cable movie was truly apropos.

The film, which will premiere tonight at 9, is the true-life tale of America's first birth control advocate, who, in the early 20th century, campaigned for women to have access to then-suppressed birth control information.

Sanger, a nurse who treated mainly poor immigrants in lower Manhattan, witnessed the devastating effects numerous pregnancies and self-inflicted abortions had on women. Eventually she concentrated on her battle, taking on the government and the law.

Not coincidentally, Ms. Delany is an abortion-rights advocate who frequently campaigns for the cause. Like Sanger, her dedication has had its effects.

Ms. Delany told of a long-time fan who wrote her a letter explaining that she won't attend "Translations" -- the soon-to-open Broadway show the actress headlines with Brian Dennehy -- in protest over the actress' stance.

"I respect her right to feel that way," Ms. Delany said. "But that's not going to change my being vocal about the way I feel."

Ms. Delany, who's perhaps best known from her role as Colleen McMurphy on ABC's acclaimed Vietnam-era drama "China Beach," became a full-fledged advocate after participating in the 1992 abortion-rights march in Washington. It was then, she said, she decided that "as a citizen, I should do something about protecting our rights."

Until "Choices," however, Ms. Delany's campaign had remained a part of her off-screen activities.

Last year, she attempted to option the rights for Ellen Chessler's book "Woman of Valor: The Margaret Sanger Story." She was outbid by HBO, which plans to produce the tale with Demi Moore next year.

But shortly after, cable's Lifetime approached Ms. Delany about "Choices of the Heart."

"It was serendipitous," she said.

Ms. Delany pointed out that Sanger's story is not about abortion, but about a woman's right to make a choice. "It's about saving women's lives with education, not about violence against a fetus."

"Choices," she added, is not a film about birth control as much as it's a film about one of America's noteworthy women -- and a love story.

"It's about two people who love each other but can't be together because one has these ideals. That always makes for a great love story."

Those who know the Sanger story are aware that Sanger's campaign took its toll on her personal life. Her first marriage, to Bill Sanger (played in the film by Henry Czerny), ended in divorce. Unfortunately, despite the impact of Sanger's work, which led to the organization of Planned Parenthood, many feel she's not a well-known historical figure. "People know all about Planned Parenthood, but they don't know about Margaret Sanger," Ms. Delany said.

Although the Sanger story took place in the days of World War I, Ms. Delany feels her fight eerily echoes the abortion conflicts of today.

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