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The pro-life movement gets portrayed in many different ways in the media, but however they are shown, it is rarely in depth. Unborn in the USA shows various people in the pro-life movement. There is no statement by the filmmakers in the movie itself, but in the DVD extras, in their follow-up questions to some of the people featured in the documentary, they state that they were trying to be as objective as possible. They show the pro-life movement on college campuses, standing outside abortion clinics trying to convince women not to have abortions, those involved in bombing abortion clinics, the women of a "I Regret My Abortion" campaign, and people in the Pro-Life Action League. For most part, the film lets people talk for themselves, and shows a variety of points of views and methods within the pro-life movement. Yet the filmmakers are also keen to make their work gripping and moving, so they do a great deal to provoke the viewer: they are especially interested in the anger that the pro-life movement provokes in others, and they use often use background music that enhances the emotions behind the pictures. Sometimes they seem to be extremely sympathetic toward the pro-life movement, and at other moments they seem more hostile in their editing choices. As a whole, this is a powerful and informative documentary that anyone in America with an opinion about abortion should watch.
At the center of this film is a debate about what methods are reasonable to use in trying to change people's minds. The Justice for All group and the Face the Truth tour both show people pictures of aborted fetuses in their effort to convince them that abortion is wrong. We also see interviews with people who have collected parts of babies from trash thrown out from abortion clinics, photographed them and buried them. And we see people who have bombed abortion clinics defend their actions. The film starts with a training session for students in Justice for All, at the headquarters of Focus on the Family, the conservative Christian organization, in Colorado. Steve Wagner, a pro-life trainer, shows the students a video demonstrating how not to interact with the public: a young woman defends abortion by explaining that she was raped at the age of 13 and got pregnant, and pro-life activists criticize and verbally attack her. The whole point of the training is to make sure the pro-life activists remain calm, to facilitate discussion, and are never judgmental towards individuals they encounter. Yet at the same time, they bring a huge display with posters of fetuses and the remains of fetuses that have been aborted. They ask students on campus their opinions and try to get them to think about what they have seen. For most of these student activists, their actions are based on their Christian convictions, and they aim to show their love for the people they encounter, even when they get shouted at.
Most pro-life activists compare themselves to those who fought against slavery or fought against tyranny in Nazi Germany or the Stalinist Soviet Union. They believe that most people are blind to the terrible crimes that are going on around them, and often they refer to the wide-spread practice of abortion as genocide. The fact that the pictures are horrible is in their view a direct reflection of the horror of abortion. As one woman says, they are there to provoke and disturb, in the hope that they will wake people up. Another activist says that people need to see these pictures. Yet others find that these tactics are completely unreasonable and counterproductive, and are outraged by them.
The pro-life activists in this documentary are for the most part both passionate and articulate, while their opponents are more often angry, personally offensive, and uninterested in debate. In the extras, the filmmakers put to four of the people featured in the documentary questions about the objectivity of the film, and three of them say that it was a fair depiction of them, while acknowledging that objectivity is hard to achieve and may be impossible to achieve completely. Those on the pro-choice side may well feel that their views were not sufficiently represented, and the documentary certainly does not attempt to give them equal time. What it does instead is examine the people on one side of this split in American society. It provides insight into the tactics and beliefs of those on who are active in the pro-life movement, and shows the strength of their convictions. Since the film falls into different sections, it would be an excellent resource to use in educational settings, since it would be possible to show portions instead of the whole film. Not only would it be helpful in medical ethics classes, but it would also be relevant to sociology, religious studies, political science, and cultural studies.
© 2007 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.