June 13, 2007

Unborn in the USA

Alarming doc looks at how pro-lifers may be winning America's "war" on abortion

By Michelle Orange

Though it may be bad form to refer to a documentary about abortion as “refreshing,” Unborn in the USA, co-directors Stephen Fell and Will Thompson’s alarming look at the ultra-right wing anti-abortion movement, provides some welcome frankness in a time when American filmmakers seem loathe to even utter the word. Fell and Thompson would have Unborn in the USA as an objective portrait; though they are careful never to take sides by offering no voiceover, vérité techniques and largely toneless intertitles, one need only look to the film’s subtitle—“Inside the War on Abortion”—for the biggest clue. Americans have an embarrassment of wars to keep track of these days, so many may not realize that the one on abortion has been declared, or that the pro-lifers may actually be winning.

Much like last year’s Jesus Camp, Fell and Thompson let the Christian fanatics hold the floor. No judgments are offered, and none need be; you can almost see the directors' pop-eyed faces behind the camera, and the strategic offering of information as punctuation creates a sort of passive-aggressive approach to a hotly contested issue. The film opens with a notation of the US Supreme Court's April 2007 decision to uphold the partial birth abortion ban act, the first pro-life victory in 35 years. From there we move to a Focus on the Family-sponsored course offered to 88 students from across the country who have presumably demonstrated an adherence to the sort of values the Focus Institute espouses. The key to this strain of Christianity, however, as with radical Islam, is that it is not enough for them to have their beliefs and live in accordance with them -- the rest of us must have them as well. And so these students take classes in how to talk a woman who aborted the pregnancy that resulted from a rape at the age of 13 into believing that what she did was wrong.

The compulsory component of this Focus Institute course is traveling to various college campuses to erect a series 17-foot placards depicting gruesome images of aborted fetuses, then standing in front of them and attempting to convert back-packed passers-by to their position. The film milks this technique for its full outrageousness, and several students stop to engage the zombie children (who have themselves been instructed to wear backpacks, to “blend in”) in some heated debate. These types of on-the-fly discussions (often shouting matches) are the only dissent Unborn in the USA offers, and here the film gets somewhat stuck; this particular “war” seems rather one-sided, though the filmmakers tend to let the unbridled idiocy of the pro-lifers speak for itself. "Would Jesus use graphic imagery to get His point across?" one instructor asks some uneasy Institute students. He then proceeds -- via PowerPoint presentation, no less -- to illustrate that, why yes, He would! The pseudo-torture porn of The Passion of the Christ is used to validate their parading of giant, severed fetus limbs; they have gore on their sides, and we all know gore is something Americans can get excited about.

Unbridled idiocy in a classroom setting is one thing, bombing abortion clinics and killing a doctor in front of his family quite another. One Pentecostal minister in the “Army of God” gives a shocking speech about being glad one murdered doctor is dead, and Frank Pavone, a Catholic priest who hung out with Mother Teresa and the Pope, whinges on in similar fashion about inch-long embyros as “the innocent babies, the babies, the little babies.” Many of the people profiled seem like unhinged individuals with sad agendas, looking for a community, like everybody else. One member of the “I regret my abortion” contingent insists that her abortion is to blame for her development of breast cancer, another just seems bummed that she ended up childless in middle age and wants someone to blame.

A few interesting revelations are made, such as George Bush choosing MDS, the biggest fundraiser for the pro-life movement, to run his donor acquisition campaign in 2004. The Wichita case of a “Choices Medical Clinic” cropping up right beside one of the best known abortion clinics in the state is also a prescient study in the vulnerability of women on the cusp of such a decision; the Choices director admits that once a woman enters either one of the facilities, she rarely switches sides, it’s just a matter of who gets to her first. The face of this war is decidedly male, and the reaction of one woman upset by the horrific imagery set up on a suburban sidewalk -- she goes batshit on the insufferable activist after he calls her a “daughter of Satan” -- taps into what will likely be the only power capable of staving off the Christian right and keeping the sanctity of choice intact: female rage.

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Comments (2)

Too bad you remain unmoved by the reality of the butchered bodies of human beings. Very sad comment on the state of your own "pro-choice" conscience.

What I don't get, is why the Pro-Life people haven't changed their stance after the war with afganistan and iraq started. I would imagine it would be one of their priorities to stop this atrocity to human life (77.00+ deaths).

Not to mention rallying for banning automotive sales, since they are responsible for 42.000+ anually in the US and for stopping production of life saving medication (106.000+ deaths per year).

I really don't understand why its called pro life, and not Anti-abortion Movement.

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