In the Book of Revelation a lake of fire appears as a place of after-death punishment of the wicked. This film is gut wrenching. Absolutely painful. You’ll hear words like “butchers,” and it never feels less traumatic.

Some of the most prominent voices of this 2006 documentary, directed by Tony Kaye, are Noam Chomsky, Bill Baird and Flip Benham. The film is appropriately graphic and adds a crucial voice in representing the many sides that make up the abortion debate. I refuse to say “both sides,” because I feel like that’s a grossly inaccurate simplification. There are many different activists and certainly varied agendas that make up the “abortion debate.” To say “Pro-Life” is to say that people who are “Pro-Choice” do not share concern for human life. Although, I am most interested in people who claim to be “Pro-Life” and yet, advocate for the execution of people who are alive. Why doesn’t Pro-Life stand for supporting living people… as in, hooray for life? These are just the surface difficulties with naming “sides” and positions. For clarity, I’ll try to use “Pro-Choice” and “Anti-Choice” because the debate is actually, no matter how hard team Anti-Abortion tries to spin it, about a woman’s right to choose what happens to her own body. Here, we are all insiders and outsiders.

I clearly and openly have an agenda: to protect women’s access to healthcare and keep abortion as a legally available option. So, I am certainly a biased consumer of this documentary. When people have asked me if the documentary really shows “all sides,” of the debate my answer is a hesitant “yes.” Maybe because of my own feminist lens, I think that the fanatic “religious right” does all the work for us. I think they make themselves look irrational and void of logic. The filmmakers simply gave them a platform to preach. There are two super important aspects (or aspects that are made important) that this documentary addresses (or at least attempts to): 1. When life begins. 2. The curious notion that gay rights are somehow a part of this debate. Firstly, I’m glad someone finally said it. NO ONE truly knows when life begins. NO ONE is truly qualified to make that call. What this film did well, was remind us that the abortion debate actually has very little to do with when life occurs. For me personally, life beginning at conception has no bearing on my opinion of choice. Life or not, having an abortion is a personal, moral decision for women to make and not for religion or government. The other aspect was that the Anti-Choice movement represented in this film, made the issues of gay rights and abortion one in the same. This seems very strange to me on most levels, but then again, if the issue for Anti-Choicers is genuinely grounded in religious ideology (or the perversion of religion) then, it makes sense to lump all of our “sins” together.

Also interesting (read hilarious), is that men are at the forefront of this debate. This baffles me. Control, power, force… hmmmm…

There were several devastating images and scenes: an actual abortion which included seeing up-close parts of a fetus, little hands and feet, part of a face; several intact fetuses which had been frozen; an image of a woman who tried to give herself an abortion with a coat hanger who had consequently hemorrhaged out and died; crime scenes where doctors who preformed abortions were executed and gunned down; a nurse who survived a clinic bombing; the list goes on. Perhaps most devastating to me personally was the eventual conversion of Norma McCorvey (the actual Jane Roe). Flip Benham baptized her, and she now regrets her decision to play Jane Roe, holding herself responsible for “millions” of deaths. She says she is now a servant of Christ and wants to overturn Roe v. Wade—A disturbing blow to the Pro-Choice movement. Yet, it was clear to me that Benham and his intimidators, who call themselves Operation Rescue, broke her down with constant harassment (even blowing out her apartment windows), cruelty, and guilt. And so, she became a woman desperate to feel freedom and peace. Who can blame her?

Other things that I consider very, very important and wish I could go into more depth about but won’t because this is a blog, and if you’re still reading, I’m impressed and thanks!

  • A huge aspect of the debate is rarely talked about or understood: Government legislation. Roe v. Wade (being the ground breaker).
  • The problem of abstinence only education and the lack of sex education. In 1994, the Surgeon General estimated that 1 in 10 children would get pregnant. P.S. statistics show that Education = Lower Fertility Rates (great equation).
  • The terrifying prospect of a closing gap between church and state (my mind wandered to witch hunts and burning heretics several times throughout the film).
  • Women’s limited access to birth control and health services (a chronic theme).
  • This idea of an abortion conspiracy, where women who have abortions are influencing, even forcing other women to have abortions. Really?
  • The voyeurism of it all. Religious groups buying up all the land surrounding clinics that provide abortion services. The constant surveillance by creepy, single, 40 something year-old men. Think intimidation and sexual predation…
  • Picket Lines and other acts of Public Indoctrination: women are selfish, having abortions for convenience, there is an abortionist industry, woman are always in crisis, etc.
  • The notion that abortion could ever be considered first-degree murder based on the argument of premeditation.
  • The incessant comparisons to the Holocaust, which are particularly offensive to this Jewish woman.
  • Anti-Choice leaders’ declarations that they can’t be held responsible for the soldiers in their movement. And, that killing can be justified in defense of “life” (read fetus). Um, hello terrorism and martyrdom. Doctors even wore bulletproof vests to work, which could not protect them.
  • One person even claimed that justifiable homicide should be allowed as a legitimate legal defense for holy people.
  • The miserable truth that violence is effective. Clinics are closed, and people have stopped preforming abortions out of fear. People have been assassinated in front of their own children.
  • In 1994, the Surgeon General also challenged the “Pro-Life” movement to go adopt all the kids out of orphanages, if they care so much. Amen.
  • Poor women are harmed the most. Tens of thousands of woman will die of botched abortions. Women who are wealthier have the option to travel abroad. The truth is women are going to continue to get abortions.

I think Noam Chomsky made the most sense to me: “You are not going to get the answers from holy texts. You are not going to get the answers from biologists. These are matters of human concern that have to be discussed seriously…” We should all want to preserve life on some level. The values we hold are not absolute and will continuously be in conflict. We cannot consider each value in isolation. There are different contexts, worldviews, and situations to be taken into consideration. This film calls into question: what makes killing wrong? We (people who are alive and have fully developed brains) have the capacity to think, feel, etc. A fetus is not conscious, so does it have the same moral standing?

Can we move away from “right” and “wrong?” Religion has the ability to justify anything. Will we ever stop using this issue to win elections? Really, this film is not about abortion, it’s about choice. The right to choose. Can we judge other people’s decisions?

We have the right to liberty and freedom, and I believe, a duty to participate in the democracy that preserves our liberties. There is nothing controversial about women having access to obstetrics. By the way, each year the Equal Rights Amendment is killed. That’s right, it still hasn’t passed. Think about it.

The film ends with a woman who goes through the process of having an abortion. We are taken through her decision making process, we are witness to the support of healthcare professionals, and we are privy to intimate, emotional details of this woman’s live. The abortion looked painful. The woman seemed heart-broken, and also she seemed relieved.

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3 thoughts on Lake of Fire… and I’m Not Talking About the Nirvana Song…

  1. Chris

    Great points Sarah. Just got done with reading this blog. I will have to watch the documentary at some point myself. I didn’t even know of it. Anyways, I don’t have much to add for heated debate, but I enjoyed reading it through and through.

  2. Great review, Sarah–you really point out all the things that made this documentary thought-provoking…despite my strong pro-choice stance, this film left me with more questions than answers, which is the sign (as I tell my students) of REAL art and intellectual discourse. The statistic that jumped out of my mind most in this film was that the LEADING cause of death for American women in the 1950s was botched self-abortions. So scary!

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