Galvanized by the recently reconfigured U.S. Supreme Court's 2007 upholding of the ban on so-called partial-birth abortions, filmmakers Stephen Fell and Will Thompson examine one reason the pro-life movement might be gaining so much ground: Its no-holds-barred use of disturbing images of aborted fetuses. In a sense, the antiabortion lobby now speaks softly...read more
Galvanized by the recently reconfigured U.S. Supreme Court's 2007 upholding of the ban on so-called partial-birth abortions, filmmakers Stephen Fell and Will Thompson examine one reason the pro-life movement might be gaining so much ground: Its no-holds-barred use of disturbing images of aborted fetuses. In a sense, the antiabortion lobby now speaks softly and carries big, bloody visual aids.
Opening with images of the tortured and crucified Christ (more than one pro-life activist interviewed in the documentary justifies the use of grisly images by citing not Christian art's 2,000-year history but Mel Gibson's THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST), Fell and Thompson begin with the efforts of Colorado Springs-based Christian-values group Focus on the Family and the pro-life Justice for All to bring their traveling outdoor installation to university campuses. The exhibit features 18-foot-high placards prominently featuring full-color photos of aborted fetuses alongside pictures of executions and Holocaust victims. Using students trained by Justice for All in "ministering," Focus on the Family attempts to shock passersby with images normally found only in medical textbooks. Like most surgical procedures, they're unpleasant. Next, Fell and Thompson consider the growing antipathy between extremists like the Army of God, who openly support firebombing "abortion mills" and murdering doctors who perform the procedure, and more mainstream right-wing groups, who increasingly advocate the sympathetic-outreach approach. At a large rally in Washington, women from the Silent No More Awareness Campaign hold signs reading "I regret my abortion," while others recount the physical and psychological trauma they suffered after terminating their pregnancies. Had they known the facts, they say, they would have decided differently, effectively shifting their own "guilt" to the perceived abortion establishment that misled them. One, despite all medical evidence to the contrary, blames her breast cancer on her abortion and bares her mastectomy scar like stigmata. Workers at church-supported "crisis pregnancy centers" like Choices Medical Clinic in Wichita, Kans., located a few feet from the abortion clinic where an Army of God member shot Dr. George Tiller in 1993, show pregnant women vivid, 4-D sonograms of their fetuses in an attempt to dissuade them from having abortions. Like the smiling, pink-and-blue swaddled fetus dolls crafted by Rachel Early, also interviewed, the images put human faces on undeveloped fetuses. The film ends with the suggestion that some pro-life activists may be abusing their right to free speech by positioning themselves — and, often, their very young children — at busy intersections with large, gruesome photos of destroyed fetuses. Are they really shining a light on the truth, or simply manipulating vulnerable women?
Fell and Thompson rarely introduce the voices of pro-choice advocates, allowing antiabortionists the chance to speak uninterrupted and, as often as not, hang themselves with their own ropes. But the film won't change any minds: Pro-life believers will hear their own thoughts echoed, while those who feel a woman's right to choose is incontrovertible will find the arguments empty and the tactics reprehensible.
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