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Teaching about Abortion: Films

The following brief discussion offers suggestions for films to use when
teaching about abortion.  It took place on WMST-L in June 2008.
Also of interest may be two earlier discussions, Teaching about Abortion
and Teaching about Abortion to Conservative Students.  For additional WMST-L
files available on the Web, see the WMST-L File Collection.
Date: Thu, 19 Jun 2008 09:01:31 -0400
From: Dr. Blaise Astra Parker <blaiseparkerphd AT GMAIL.COM>
Subject: Teaching Lake of Fire
Hi all,

I was just wondering whether anyone has used the documentary Lake of Fire to
teach about abortion in the WMST classroom. I watched it last weekend, and I
have mixed feelings about whether I would use it or not. I thought I would
see if anyone else has had any experience showing it to students. (For those
who don't know, it's a 2.5 hour documentary that is relatively even-handed
about presenting both sides of the abortion debate... but it also doesn't
shy away from controversy, such as showing the remains of aborted fetuses.)

Thanks for any suggestions or insight you might have!


Blaise Astra Parker, PhD
Asst. Director of Women's Studies
102 Benson Building
University of Georgia
Athens, GA, 30602
blaiseparkerphd AT gmail.com

"If I have any agency, it is opened up by the fact that I am constituted by
a world I never
chose. That my agency is riven with paradox does not mean it is impossible.
It means
only that paradox is the condition of its possibility." - Judith Butler
Date: Fri, 20 Jun 2008 06:44:18 -0400
From: Loraine Hutchins <lorainehutchins AT STARPOWER.NET>
Subject: Re: teaching abortion
Not sure about Lake of Fire (haven't seen it) but I really really like
teaching "I Had An Abortion," a new film by Jennifer Baumgarden.  It has
lots of women of different ages, demographics on it, who all talk about
their abortions. It's not all "positive" or upbeat by any means, just real
and human and powerful.

Date: Fri, 20 Jun 2008 10:11:57 -0400
From: "Garrett, Robin" <RGarrett AT WCUPA.EDU>
Subject: Re: teaching abortion
While it is old and outdated in much of its detail, I like using the film
"Abortion Stories from North and South" because it reflects how ubiquitous
abortion is and has been, includes information about the inconsistency among
authorities (such as the Catholic Church and medical establishments), and makes
it clear that safe abortions are generally available to those who have the
money to buy one regardless of the law (resulting in deaths for vulnerable
girls and women w/o resources).
Date: Sun, 22 Jun 2008 22:31:20 -0700
From: Jessica Nathanson <janathanson AT YAHOO.COM>
Subject: Re: teaching abortion
Regarding Lake of Fire - I don't know how the film
actually turned out because I haven't had the
opportunity to see it, but when the director
interviewed several of us in SD two years ago, we were
made very uncomfortable by our interviews and the way
he interacted with us.  Several of us wished we could
take back our signed releases so that he could not use
the footage.  I realize this has nothing to do with
the quality of the film, but that experience turned me
off him as a director, and I guess I just wanted to
say that.  (We don't know if he used any of our
footage, anyway.)

Jessica Nathanson
Director, Women's Resource Center
Augsburg College
Minneapolis, MN
nathanso AT augsburg.edu
Date: Mon, 23 Jun 2008 04:18:47 -0700
From: Sarah L. Rasmusson <sarahrasmusson AT yahoo.com>
Subject: Re: teaching abortion
Hi all:

I'd like to give a shout out to Jenn B's movie -- students LOVE LOVE LOVE it
compared to most of the dreary illegal-era documentaries (which themselves seem
to perpetuate many stereotypes about abortion, like the back alley butcher,
etc.). I have found it works really well with "If These Walls Could Talk" -
which we all know.

I'm working on a cultural studies and critical pedagogy book about teaching
abortion that centers reproductive justice and de-centers abortion from a third
wave and anti-racist perspective: _ABORTION U: Sixty-Nine Dumb Myths About Sex,
Education & Abortion for the Antis, the Pros, and the Rest of Us ~ On Teaching
Reproductive Justice_ (title tentative in contract). I've put a list of all the
movies I've used about abortion in the classroom, below.

In the book, college students each tackle one cultural myth about abortion --
which I argue in the introduction, "(Teaching) Abortion is Murder!" -- are
largely the product of always-already everyday and ordinary public pedagogies
before they enter the classroom. ("I don't like it when abortion is used as
birth control," "abortion is about women's rights, it has little to do with
race or class or sexual orientation," "only sluts get abortions," "adoption is
an option," "abortion was always illegal in this country," to name a few.)

We've all heard them all before, I'm sure!

And, if you can learn em, you can unlearn em, right?!

After many years of having the same frustrating rhetorical debates in intro to
WS courses, I began to *really* watch and listen to how undergraduate students
want to know what their peers think about abortion and realized they seem to
un-learn these over-determined debates best from one another (NOT anthologies
of feminist essays).

Among the many films I have used in teaching the course from which this
classroom collaborative idea came from is a new one about women of color that
just came out a few months ago:

Silent Choices (60 mins, 2007, New Day Films) "Illustrates the abortion issue
through the lives of African American women, with both interviews and dramatic
content. Features the personal experiences of several such women, some of whom
chose to have abortions, and some who are staunchly pro-life. The film also
brings in others active in the African American community on abortion issues,
as well as juxtaposing African American viewpoints to those of white Americans,
all combined and contrasted with the larger economic, political, and social
pressures that are faced by the African-American community in general."

It's been qouted already by these 2 myths by studens:

Myth 18: Black women do not typically support abortion and aren't activist
leaders in the movement. Abortion does not concern women of color. It just
isn't their issue.

Myth 27: Abortion isn't about race for whites. Abortion is a power struggle
between a lot of whites - like white politicians, white religious leaders,
white women, and even white fetuses depicted on highway billboards - but it has
nothing to do with white privilege or white supremacy.

Anyway, here's an (albeit incomplete) "ABORTION FILMOGRAPHY" (the last one
isn't about abortion per se, but it is really really funny about
turn-of-the-last century reproductive politics):

If These Walls Could Talk (97 minutes, HBO)
In this trilogy, different women face different social and political climates
in choosing what to do about an unplanned pregnancy. In 1952, a recently
widowed nurse (Demi Moore) must decide whether to go through with an illegal
abortion. In 1974, a mother of four (Sissy Spacek) struggles to raise a family
and have a career shortly after abortion was legalized. In 1996, a college
student (Anne Heche) decides on getting an abortion during a climate of
violence (doctor played by Cher). The stories span over 40 years and are set in
the same house.

I Witness (56 minutes)
Examines the effects of the abortion controversy on the community of Pensacola,
Florida. Two doctors and an escort have been murdered at abortion clinics in
the town, and violence fueled by religious fervor has forced the community to
examine its convictions and responsibilities surrounding this difficult issue.
Includes interviews with a diverse group of civil and religious leaders in

Motherless (28 mins, 1999)
Explores the tragedy of death from illegal abortions. Three women and one man,
whose mothers died due to complications from abortion (before its
legalization), discuss the trauma of loving and then losing a mother at a young

When Abortion Was Illegal: Untold Stories / Women Make Movies (28 minutes)

>From Danger to Dignity: The Fight for Safe Abortion (57 minutes)
A documentary on the efforts to legalize abortion in the United States and on
the social and medical dangers of illegal abortions prior to Roe vs. Wade. Also
portrays the underground network that helped women procure safe illegal

The Fragile Promise of Choice: Abortion in the United States Today (57 minutes)
Vignettes from around the United States, news footage and interviews combine to
show how restrictive legislation, funding cutbacks, violence against clinics,
and the political successes of the Pro-life movement is affecting abortion's
availability and how activists and clinicians are working to preserve access to

Abortion clinic (60mins, 1983) Four women's' cases are highlighted, and their
reasons for having or not having an abortion are discussed.

Right to Live, Right to Die (60 min)
Discussion of the right to make intensely individual decisions about dying,
abortion, personal freedom, and privacy.

Birth of Perception (43 min)
The struggle to get the drug RU-486 (mifepristone) approved for use in the
United States is presented through interviews and film clips.

Holding Our Ground (23 mins)
Holding our Ground focuses on one of the most contested of the agreements
hammered out at the International Conference on Population and Development in
Cairo in 1994 - reproductive rights. But 10 years after the Cairo agreement,
these rights still appear to be far from universal. The programme features
reports from: the Philippines, a country with an average of over five children
per family, and now at the epicentre of the battle over efforts to restrict
access to family planning; Latvia, one of the new members of the EU, where
taboos surrounding the subject of sex still hamper efforts to provide
information for adolescents; Japan, where the falling birthrate is focusing
attention again on the problems of childcare for working women; and India,
where - despite laws designed to protect the girl child - the practice of
selective abortion of female fetuses appears to be growing. The stories are
linked by an interview with Thoraya Obaid - Executive Director
 of the UN Population Fund, and the first Saudi Arabian woman ever to head up a
UN agency.

The Strenuous Life, or Anti-Race-Suicide (1904, 5 minutes)
Early short movie, before the 'talkies'. This short addresses the pro-natalist
initiatives to have larger families at the turn of the last century.

Sarah L. Rasmusson
Women's and Gender Studies
The College of New Jersey

"Many Americans are so hungry for an end to the horrendous Bush administration
that like a love-starved person they view their new prospect through
rose-colored glasses."
--- Barbara Ransby, April 3, 2008
Date: Tue, 24 Jun 2008 07:29:07 -0400
From: Loraine Hutchins <lorainehutchins AT STARPOWER.NET>
Subject: Re: abortion resources
Folks - I recommended Baumgardner & Alldrich's film, "I Had An Abortion"
before but forgot to give the contact info so here it is:


  Also, you can learn about her other projects, including the new resource
book on abortion she's just released which is a good companion to the film,


   Again, my students LOVE this film and it has really helped provoke good
discussion in classes.


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