Wednesday, September 17, 2008

First Run Features has another important documentary: "Unborn in the USA"


First Run Features likes to distribute documentaries about a lot of controversial political issues. I’m surprised I haven’t seen it in business synergy with Participant Productions or 2929.

Another good example of its work is a 105 minute documentary, distributed in 2007, by Stephen Fell and Will Thompson, “Unborn in the USA: Inside the War on Abortion”. The film does show the strident behavior of activists, training others to spread their “gospel” and sometimes willing to go beyond the limits of the law with regard to clinics, and sometimes harassing women approaching these businesses. Much of the film deals with a group called “Justice for All” and some of it is filmed at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs. Toward the end, the film covers the use of photos and props, showing the results of partial-birth procedures. Of course, there have been responsible efforts (as in National Geographic) to document the growth of the unborn child in the womb, as the child becomes recognizable as human much earlier in pregnancy than many people realize.

The DVD includes interviews with Matt Trevhella, David Lee and Monica Miller. They make a comparison of the effect of their activism with the effect of the public’s learning about Abu Ghraib, but the controversies around Roe v. Wade have aired for decades now.

It seems, to me, at least, that the “religious right”, in focusing on unborn babies as victims and pleading for so much emotion from its audience, may be missing the potentially strongest arguments that it could make downstream. Think about it. Our modern culture stresses “personal responsibility” at an individual level, but there is a strong utilitarian component to our idea of responsibility. If we can decide that an unborn baby does not have fully equal rights because he or she could not be viable, then perhaps we could decide that others do not either. It’s the old “slippery slope” metaphor. The most obvious area of concern that this kind of thinking can evoke would be end-of-life problems, which could well generate another film from this same company. There is a difference. A woman can avoid having to make a “choice” like that posed in the film with self-discipline by not getting pregnant at all (with the exception of an act done against her will, which generates its own controversy), at least outside of marriage and a conscious intention to start or continue a family. A man can avoid the secondary responsibility for fatherhood by controlling his own behavior (until marriage). But, in other situations, responsibility for others (the disabled, the elderly) within a family cannot always be avoided just by “choice” or the narrow and utilitarian idea of personal responsibility that our culture has nurtured. At some level, not all moral issues come down to “choices” and their immediately connected “consequences.”

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