The battle over abortion in our nation has been marked by two major films that can help all of us wrestle with a seemingly intractable issue.
On March 29 theatres began carrying the movie “Unplanned,” and on Wednesday the 27th, the first public screening of the movie “Roe v. Wade” took place at the convention of the National Religious Broadcasters. (Its planned release is in the Fall.)
One movie traces the pro-life/pro-choice conflict on the battleground of an abortion clinic; the other traces the conflict on the battleground of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Both are true stories, and I’ve had the privilege of knowing and working closely with the people whose journeys these films portray.
In “Unplanned,” we learn how Abby Johnson, a Planned Parenthood clinic director, makes the journey out of the abortion industry and into the pro-life movement.
In “Roe vs. Wade,” we learn the behind-the-scenes story of how that Supreme Court case was decided, and why Dr. Bernard Nathanson, one of the key founders of the abortion industry in America, also became pro-life.
And without explicitly speaking about some of the latest headlines about the expansion of abortion law in New York State, similar proposals in other states, and efforts in Congress to protect the lives of children born alive after a failed abortion, these films tell of the journey we’re on now as a nation.
The films do not preach, they do not judge, and they do not force any views on anyone. Rather, they enable us to come into touch with our own ambivalence over abortion — an ambivalence that marked the lives of Abby and Dr. Nathanson, and that characterizes the views of most Americans, as they see, at the same time, the merits of protecting life and preserving freedom.
Abby and Dr. Nathanson were each responsible for abortion clinics, believing they were serving the health and freedom of women. Yet, as hard as it might be to believe, neither of them knew much about what happens in an abortion.
In Abby’s case, she was called to assist one day in the procedure room, and for the first time, saw on ultrasound what happens to a baby in a 13-week abortion. She writes that when the procedure started, “I could not have imagined how the next ten minutes would shake the foundation of my values and change the course of my life.” (“Unplanned,” p.3)
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Dr. Nathanson similarly writes, “By 1984, however, I had begun to ask myself more questions about abortion: What actually goes on in an abortion? I had done many, but abortion is a blind procedure. The doctor does not see what he is doing… I wanted to know what happened….I… was shaken to the very roots of my soul by what I saw” (“The Hand of God,” p. 140-141).
Not only was abortion worse than they had imagined, but another kind of cognitive dissonance was brewing.
Though Abby ran an abortion clinic, she was adamantly opposed to late-term abortion. And when Planned Parenthood began to increase the number of late term abortions they sold, and increase the quotas for all abortions at her clinic, she objected and began to question whether she was in the right place. Was the mission to help women or to sell abortions?
I have worked for nearly 30 years helping doctors and other clinic workers leave the abortion industry, and have seen the same dynamics at work in their journeys, as well as in the journey of the Jane Roe of “Roe vs. Wade,” Norma McCorvey, to whom I was a spiritual guide and friend.
Even on the day before the press conference at which attorney and pro-choice advocate Gloria Allred revealed to the world the identity of the iconic “Jane Roe” who had won abortion rights for all American women, Norma turned to Gloria and confided, “You know, I think abortion’s wrong.” (“Won by Love,” p. 23). Norma eventually rejected the very case she won, and worked for the rest of her life to reverse it, as did Dr. Nathanson.
I believe America itself is making a similar journey. We are wondering why “choice” has become a push for abortion until the very moment of birth. And we are squirming as details of these abortion procedures, some even resulting in infanticide, come more and more to light.
We should not be afraid of the journey, nor of the pain of wrestling with these questions. After all, as the protagonists of these new movies reveal, the affirmation of freedom is always quite compatible with the welcoming of truth.