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Life Arts

Filmmaker Dorothy Fadiman Discusses "Choice: Then and Now"

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My guest today is award-winning documentary filmmaker, Dorothy Fadiman. Welcome back to OpEdNews, Dorothy. I recently watched your trilogy, Choice: Then and Now . The Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade has been established law for almost forty years. Why the interest in revisiting what's been a "done deal" for so long?


Dorothy Fadiman

Anti-abortion propaganda and rhetoric are continually bombarding a generation who have no memory or knowledge of "the back alley days". Increasingly, people are uninformed about the realities of unintended pregnancies and diminishing access to services. I had been observing this swing toward more conservative positions on women's rights, despite the facts. But, it wasn't until I heard that a courageous late term abortion provider, Dr. George Tiller, was killed in cold blood in his church in May 2009, that i realized I had to update and re-release the three films in the trilogy.

You had a very personal reason for doing these films. Would you care to tell our readers about it?

I am so pleased to be able have an in depth conversation with you again. I find one of your first questions very provocative, asking me to talk about my motivation for taking on the subject of abortion, from a historical perspective. Several years ago, I examined that question myself, and posted that answer on my website www.concentric.org/trilogy. Rather than try to explain in new words what I'd written then, how about we post what I wrote, then go on to fresh answers for the questions that follow?

My motivation for creating this series of documentaries is that when I was in college, I had an illegal back-alley abortion. It was 1962. I was unintentionally pregnant, 22 years old, working my way through college. I had no savings, and no committed partner.And, I did not want to give birth to an unwanted child.Ashamed of my condition, secretly, I went alone to another state. For $600 cash (which I had borrowed), I arranged for a back-alley abortion. I had to trust a complete stranger. I was blindfolded and never saw the face of the abortionist. Within 24 hours after the procedure, I started hemorrhaging. I was rushed to the hospital emergency room, with a fever of 105 and blood poisoning.

My own doctor, who had refused to provide a safe abortion, could now, legally, try to save my life. Because I was a student at Stanford, I received the best care from the University Hospital. As a result of this medical attention,I survived. During those same years, throughout the United States, thousands of women in my condition had died. Many were sheltered in poorly staffed and under-supplied county and state hospitals. I didn't know any of this at that time. Nobody discussed abortion. I didn't tell anyone -- family, friends, roommates, no one, nor discuss the whole event for almost thirty years.

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In 1991, anti-choice positions of some Supreme Court Justices were ominous. For three decades, I had remained silent about my own back-alley brush with death. Meanwhile, the right to a safe abortion was slipping away for the next generation. Now was the time to step forward. One by one, I found women who had lived through that era and were ready to break the silence. I also found people who had tried to help women find safe care, and were willing to share stories about the part they played.The trilogy weaves together the history and the current chapter of this saga.These films were seven years in production, and are the work of several hundred people.

This was a very personal project for you, but not only for you. The women you talked to, who later became activists around reproductive rights, had their own brushes with back alleys. And, as they tell the story on camera many decades later, their eyes are still haunted, their faces filled with sadness, pain, fear, guilt. This experience definitely reverberated through their lives. Why do you think it is so hard for opponents of abortion to understand that having an abortion is a difficult and painful choice, not undertaken lightly?

A quote from the American classic,To Kill a Mockingbird, begins to answer this question "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view - until you climb into his skin and walk around in it," spoken by Atticus Finch. These words probably grew from the traditional proverb:To understand a man, you've got to walk a mile in his shoes, whether they fit or not.

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For some people, it is simply impossible to empathize with the inner struggle many women experience when facing an unintended pregnancy. People who have never been in that position, and walked in those shoes, may not be able to imagine it. For others, however, it is a much more complex phenomenon that requires denial. For these people, their inability to empathize is based on their beliefs, so deeply rooted that even when they actually experience that suffering, they must immediately then block those feelings. I will give you a specific example of what I have observed.


back alley

When I toured the country screening the trilogy, in every community I heard stories like the following from clinic workers: Anti-abortion activists, who demonstrate on the sidewalks outside clinics, experience a change of heart if they become unintentionally pregnant.They would come to the clinics they had been picketing,now asking for help, feeling many of the same feelings any woman might feel, but also ashamed and apologetic. If they requested an abortion, they would usually say first:"My situation is different, I am not like those other women who come here." Then, they would explain their situation, which was exactly like what those "other women" go through. Abortion clinicians are trained to make no judgments and these women are served respectfully.

But here is the strange part that reveals how deeply these anti-abortion feelings are supported by ideology. Over and over, clinic workers reported that soon after these women get abortions, most of them would be back on the picket lines.The most vivid story about this phenomenon,which I will never forget,is this: In Montana, I met a family doctor, who also performs abortions. He showed me a full page ad, accusing him of murder, which appears every year. Every year it is signed by hundreds of "pro-life" community members.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)
 

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Thanks, Dorothy, for such a great story here. And ... by Sheila Parks on Tuesday, Mar 23, 2010 at 11:24:19 PM
it looks like women's reproductive rights were swa... by Joan Brunwasser on Wednesday, Mar 24, 2010 at 7:06:07 AM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csEKzoq_g1wHas the ... by Sheila Parks on Tuesday, Mar 23, 2010 at 11:40:07 PM
1. that the women's issue is decided in Congress w... by Mark Sashine on Wednesday, Mar 24, 2010 at 10:22:15 AM
the film trilogy is a good way to start some true ... by Joan Brunwasser on Wednesday, Mar 24, 2010 at 11:38:33 AM
Very good...Thank you for doing this interview.Whe... by Joan Brunwasser on Wednesday, Mar 24, 2010 at 1:47:37 PM
The attitude you described (anti-abortion activist... by lwarman on Wednesday, Mar 24, 2010 at 7:29:17 PM