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the Body Politic
Vol. 6, No. 11 - December 1996, Page 13
Copyright © 1996, 1997 by the Body Politic Inc.

Back to the Future?

Rain Without Thunder

Reviewed by Kate Cornell

Rain Without Thunder uses a fictionalized documentary style to effectively juggle the social, religious, moral and legal ramifications of a United States, in the not-too-distant future, in which abortion has been criminalized.

The year is 2042 in the idyllic setting of Walker Point, a "Secure Facility", where a reporter is interviewing Alison, the first woman convicted under The Urban Child Kidnapping Act. The act is aimed at well-to-do women who routinely go abroad for abortions. As the reporter moves from subject to subject, the story emerges.

Two elements contributed to the emergence of an anti-abortion constituency: The Catholic Church's decision to allow "barrier" contraception which splintered the pro-choice movement; and a papal decree which stated that any fertilized egg held the possibility of being the second coming of Christ, since he had come that way once before.
An upper-middle class college student, Alison tested positive for pregnancy at the campus clinic: her working class boyfriend is relieved that she doesn't want to keep it, and Alison and her mother fly to Sweden for the abortion.

Constitutional Fourth Amendment protections against unwarranted search and seizure have been eroded in a fear-driven frenzy of anti-drug/crime legislation. An aged feminist recalls that "People valued protecting their jewelry more than protecting their liberty." Only circumstantial evidence is required to forcibly examine a woman for evidence of abortion or abortifacient. Race and class divisions are deepened and exploited by opportunistic politicians.

Two elements contributed to the emergence of an anti-abortion constituency: The Catholic Church's decision to allow "barrier" contraception which splintered the pro-choice movement; and a papal decree which stated that any fertilized egg held the possibility of being the second coming of Christ, since he had come that way once before.

Since prosecutions for "Fetal Murder" had been confined to poor women, disproportionately of color, African-Americans filed a suit against the state of New York charging racial discrimination in an effort to kill the statute, but, the suit "boomeranged" as zealous politicians concocted the fetal kidnapping law. Anxious for a test case, prosecutors compared the college clinic pregnancy tests against overseas airline passenger logs. Alison is re-tested and no longer pregnant. She and her mother are arrested, convicted and sentenced to seven years "rehabilitation."

The case turns on the false testimony of her boyfriend who turns quisling under pressure from the prosecution. A chic, sharp and ambitious female prosecutor of color, describes the case as a "revolutionary approach to correction of racial and class injustices of fetal murder prosecutions."

The elder feminist, a one-woman Greek chorus observes that "Our spring lasted only two generations. It only takes one generation to fight for it (reproductive rights): only one to lose it." Her role is contrasted with the frighteningly acquiescent head of the "Atwood Society," memorably played by Linda Hunt. Phrases and faces haunt one long after the credits have run.

The complexity of the story and the use of futuristic jargon and street lingo makes the film dense and difficult to follow in spots. (eg: "poplolly" = fetus; "get fruited" = pregnant; "baby bomb" = RU486 type drug.) But the mental workout is worth the effort. This video ought to spark lively and perhaps even heated discussion in class rooms and living rooms about the future of reproduction freedom and privacy in a time of political complacency.

The title of the film derives from a quote from Frederick Douglas:

"If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet avoid confrontation, are people who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its waters."
 ORION Video
 TAZ Pictures 1994
 Written and Directed by Gary Bennett
 Running time 88 minutes
 Catalogue number 8801

Kate Cornell is a writer living in Western Massachusetts.


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