Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lake of Fire - a documentary on abortion

Last week a blog I frequent recommended this documentary on the abortion issue. It is an issue I have committed to be more informed about and active in year round, not just in Novembers. So I found Lake of Fire in the library and watched it in two sittings, the kids afternoon naps and tonight once I got them in bed. Honestly, I was glad to break it up like this because it is not an easy film to watch. Here are a few of the reasons why:

1. The constant connection drawn between religious fundamentalists and the prolife movement got annoying. I understand that almost all fundamentalists are prolife, but not all those of the prolife persuasion are fundamentalists. The film makers spent an inordinate amount of time talking to nutjobs, like the guys who believe all blasphemers should be executed (though in a humorous moment the man on camera who made this claim had to ask his pastor off camera what constituted blasphemy). The Christian Reconstructionist Roas Rushdoony and his Institutes of Biblical Law were discussed as though they were widely accepted in the Christian community (ok, for a small number of uberreformed people they might be).

2. The hate and lack of compassion on the anti-abortion protesters/activists was appalling. One of the things that comes to life in this film is the emotional turmoil the women seeking an abortion often go through before, during and after the procedure. It was heartbreaking. While we should be concerned for the unborn life, we must not forget the life of the women either. (And don't forget the men. There's a moving scene in the beginning of the film recounting the story of a young man who tried in vain to convince his girlfriend to keep the child. He experience loss and pain as well).

3. The lack of intellectual dialogue was disappointing. This isn't a film where you'll find the best articulation of prolife positions. While I felt the prochoice position was better represented (they had more big guns on camera) this side of the issue still had it's wacko's. There was one lady who argued that the prolifers she encountered fit the profile of pedophiles. Another woman, a psychologist I believe, argued that prolifers were so angry at the termination of the babies new life (certainly not her words) because they were 'projecting' (her word). They were projecting their own killing, their own taking of new life onto those abortion doctors and that's what enraged them. What did they kill? Creativity and new thought with their dogma! Yeah, that's it. That's why they are so mad. Stupid.

4. That no one followed the slippery slope of the prochoice arguments to their logical conclusions was frustrating. Alan Dershowitz, a man whose life and intellect I greatly respect, is particularly guilty of this. He describes seeing his daughter in a sonogram and thinking, "that's my daughter, I can't conceive of not letting her live. She's a baby" [my paraphrase]. Yet, that doesn't bring him to a prolife position. He goes on to say, "but that was because we had decided to keep her. If we had decided not to, would I have felt the same way? I don't know" [again, my paraphrase]. I want someone to ask him, "what if I don't want my two year old? What if I don't want my elderly parents when they get to be a nuisance?" Since when did being wanted become the defining characteristic of personhood, or more importantly, human life.

Another extreme example of this was the line of argument offered by Peter Singer. He asks, quite bluntly, "what makes killing wrong?" He argues that since they baby doesn't care what happens to it we shouldn't be overly concerned either. He argues that taking a innocent human life isn't always wrong. He states that a fetus can't feel pain or satisfaction until at least 18 weeks. A utilitarian calculation should weigh the woman's desire to have the abortion, the fetus' desire to live and not feel pain. So, he argues, since a fetus has no desire to live and cant' feel pain, the mothers desire overrides other concerns. Ok, but what about me when I'm asleep. I don't want anything. If you killed me quickly I wouldn't feel pain. His argument is slippery in the extreme!

5. The confusion of issues was nonsensical at times. It was asserted repeatedly, in passing, that prolifers were anti women, racists, etc. Ok, lets just grant for the sake of argument that prolifers are all racists. Does that negate the validity of their arguments? It's an awful example of an an ad hominem argument (don't wrestle with the idea, attack the person).

6. The reminder that I've been used by the Republican Party is infuriating. It was said (can't remember by whom), that most Republican politicians don't want abortion to go away - it's how they raise money and punch their ticket to Washington. I think the commentator is right.

7. It is very disturbing. At first I was disappointed the film was in black and white. After they showed in graphic details the first abortion procedure being done, I was grateful. Honestly, I almost threw up. There were two procedures shown in detail, not to mention very graphic pictures of babies (and of women who had tried to perform abortions on themselves before it was legal). There is also a very lude scene with an all female rock band - just a warning.

8. It was incredibly challenging.
- In a speech given to a prochoice group, Jocelyn Edwards, former Surgeon General, makes the comment that we care a lot about children when they are in someone else's uterus. As a nation, we are failing to care well for the massive numbers of children who live in poverty, without health care, hungry and helpless. She's right, and shame on us prolifers.
- Noam Chomsky makes a similar point when he reminds the viewer that some 15 million children die each year from preventable diseases and fixable situation (ie. no access to clean water). His point - if you're prolife, be consistent and others may be more willing to listen to you.
- According to one expert, botched abortions were the leading cause of death in women ages 15-45 during the 1950's. That should guard us against any Pollyannish notions that overturning Roe v. Wade would end the tragedy of abortion. We must deal with the root issues, including the loosening of the connection between sex and marriage, but also the cultural/societal structures that make carrying a baby to delivery so undesirable. In short, we must step up efforts to care for women as well as babies.

For me, one of the high points of the film was listening to Norma McCorvey ('Jane Roe'), tell of her conversion and subsequent shift in thinking on abortion. It really is a story of grace. The film is one I would strongly recommend to everyone but kids. Be prepared and be open to being challenged.

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