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the Body Politic
Vol. 6, No. 10 - October/November 1996, Page 14
Copyright © 1996, 1997 by the Body Politic Inc.

The Fragile Promise of Choice: A Trilogy Complete

by Eve Rabbiner

The Fragile Promise of Choice: Abortion in the U.S. Today," is not nearly as optimistic. It is designed, rather, to pique our anger and move us to action. Protestors harassing patients, storming, burning and bombing clinics and terrorizing providers at home and at work – you've seen it on the evening news – for a few seconds at a time. By interjecting these scenes throughout the film, Ms. Fadiman has you feel what it's like to face the barrage constantly.
Here in New York we have no parental consent or notification laws, no waiting periods, no mandated "(mis)informed consent" requirements for women seeking abortions. So how do we convince women, especially young women, that their rights are in jeopardy? And how do we get them to carry the banner – to become the next generation of advocates? Well, if you can get them in a room with a TV and VCR, Dorothy Fadiman's three-film series can do the job for you.

Kate O'Donnell, a professor at Hartwick College, and I, pubic affairs coordinator at Planned Parenthood Association of Delaware and Otsego Counties have shown the first two films many times to a variety of audiences and have found them to be extraordinarily moving and powerful. We, therefore, jumped at the chance to bring Ms. Fadiman to Oneonta to show, The Fragile Promise of Choice: Abortion in the U.S. Today, the last film in the series.

Ms. Fadiman is currently on a nationwide tour showing this new film. Check it out! She'll probably be in a city near you very soon. Our event was sponsored by the Women's Studies program at Hartwick and my Planned Parenthood affiliate. It was free and open to the public and was well attended by students, faculty, community members, pro-choice advocates and some familiar faces from the local opposition.

Let me tell you about the three films:

When Abortion Was Illegal: Untold Stories, the first film in the series, deals with the bad old days when abortion was illegal and for the most part, unsafe. Women talk of the pain, fear, and indignities they suffered. Friends and family tell the stories of women who did not survive. Physicians and nurses describe the maternity wards where women, victims of botched abortions, suffered and often died. The film invariably leaves audiences quiet and reflective, feeling "this was horrible and demeaning." Women deserve better.

Whenever I have the opportunity to work on pro-choice issues with college women, first as a grassroots organizer and now as a Planned Parenthood public affairs staff person, I have always encouraged students to call home and get their family stories – of unwanted pregnancies, forced marriages, and clandestine abortions. This peek into the past always moves them. Now, with this film, young people can hear even more stories about ordinary women making hard choices in desperate situations.

From Danger to Dignity: The Fight for Safe Abortion, Ms. Fadiman's second film in the trilogy, shows the success of pro-choice activists in the United States starting in the early sixties. There's Pat Maginnis, in San Francisco, organizing to repeal abortion laws, medical groups pleading to save women's lives, the Clergy Consultation Service that overtly sent women to approved physicians for safe abortions, members of "Jane" the cooperative women's group that provided safe abortions to 10,000 women in the Chicago area, to mention just some of the highlights.

This film also contains some rare footage of the New York State legislature: Connie Cook introducing a bill to decriminalize abortion, a tie vote in the Assembly, and the courageous speech of George Michaels – which brings tears every time I see it – where he says,

"I fully appreciate that this is the termination of my political career. But Mr. Speaker, what's the use of getting elected, or re- elected, if you don't stand for something? I cannot in good conscience stand here and be the vote that defeats this bill."
He changed his vote, broke the tie, and gave New Yorkers the most liberal abortion laws in the country. And he, indeed, was not re-elected.

For me and, I suspect, many pro-choice advocates, "dignity" is the word we would use to describe why we do what we do. We want women to be able to make their choices with dignity – not by performing a crazy act before a panel of psychiatrists, or flying out of the country, or by making believe it's a D&C, and certainly not by resorting to unsafe abortions. Ms. Fadiman's second film takes us from the bad old days, when women were in danger, to the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decisions, when women throughout the country could finally, with dignity, request a safe abortion. This film leaves audiences proud and inspired by the dedication of the women and men who worked so hard for abortion rights and women's dignity.

The Fragile Promise of Choice: Abortion in the U.S. Today," the final part of the trilogy, is not nearly as optimistic. It is designed, rather, to pique our anger and move us to action. Protestors harassing patients, storming, burning and bombing clinics and terrorizing providers at home and at work – you've seen it on the evening news – for a few seconds at a time. By interjecting these scenes throughout the film, Ms. Fadiman has you feel what it's like to face the barrage constantly. Interviews with providers show the wear and tear it takes. And, the murders, well, they speak for themselves.

Fragile Promise shows that while abortion is still legal it is becoming less accessible. Fewer doctors are willing to do abortions; states are passing more restrictions. And, bringing the series nearly full circle, we hear the story of a college student who, after being horrified by clinic protestors, took herbs to self abort and died. But all is not lost. The courage and dedication of providers and clinic staff is awesome. And, the young people of Medical Students for Choice demanding training to do abortions give us hope for the future.

The college students in the audience at the Oneonta premier, hugged Ms. Fadiman and thanked her profusely for the inspiration. Our loyal opposition made the usual biased statements to which she responded respectfully, but she clearly was not baited. For me, the film was a little too close to home. It's the stuff you have to put away to go to work and do your job. But, I know the film will be an invaluable tool and I will use it with supporters and young women, the keepers of the flame.

The power of these three films is their simplicity and focus. Ms. Fadiman does not explore why the antis do what they do or how party politics and religious groups have used "the issue of abortion" for their own gain. She also doesn't tell you what to do about the current state of affairs. She leaves it up to you to decide what you must do.

This series of three films is what Ms. Fadiman decided she had to do after 30 years of silence about her own back-alley abortion.

Note: For information about the film, contact:

      Concentric Media
      Box 1414
      Menlo Park, CA  94026
      415-323-6100

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