Forthcoming Flick has Religious Right Leader Worried
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Feb 22, 2007 at 03:01:24 AM EST
Longtime antiabortion activist Steve Ertelt, editor of Life News, is worried about the forthcoming release of Tony Kaye's documentary film Lake of Fire.  Due for release in October following a series of appearances at film fests, Lake of Fire is a 152 minute documentary on the politics of abortion in the United States.  The apparent source of Ertelt's concern is that the film features a side of the antiabortion movement he would rather us not see: religiously inspired domestic terrorism.
According to The Hollywood Reporter:
The 2 1/2-hour feature takes a stark look at all sides of the abortion debate, including footage of procedures, the killings of doctors who have performed them and interviews with such people as Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry and lawyer Alan Dershowitz. Made for more than $6 million over about 16 years, "Fire" will be released theatrically in October, with a possible three- to four-hour TV version to follow.

But Ertelt says it "could wind up being known more for its graphic and sensationalist nature than its honest treatment of the abortion issue."  A few sentences later he repeats himself.

"The feature firm is said to take a look at both sides of the abortion debate but the movie may do more to sensationalize both sides.

It features graphic abortion pictures, photos of abortion practitioners who have been killed by vigilante extremists and interviews with people such as Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry and combative pro-abortion lawyer Alan Dershowitz."

In fact, most reviewers so far have said that there is plenty in it to give both sides pause, and that the film is exceptionally even handed for such a volatile subject. But the film explores the dirty not-so-secret of the pro-life movement:  how domestic terrorism has been integral to the movement for decades. The part of the face of the movement we rarely see includes interviews with the notorious Paul Hill, who committed a double murder of a doctor and his escort; as well as Michael Griffin, who also murdered a doctor.

I wrote in more detail about the film back in January, and the film has since premeired at the Santa Barbara Film Festival.

But beyond rave reviews, I think the film will be politically important. I think it will inform and shape -- and perhaps transform -- public conversation about the politics of abortion for years to come, as any work of such force and distributed on a wide scale can do. In exactly what ways it will change the discourse on abortion, I cannot predict. But the coming of the film is nevertheless worth noting as we enter the election season. Those pols and the consultantocracy who believe they will no longer have to talk about abortion, may find themselves quite mistaken.

Mark Urman of ThinkFilm, according to the Hollywood Reporter,

plans to roll out "Fire" at more than a half-dozen film festivals before its release. "I'd like it to be followed by panels and argued in university settings, with government officials and with various clergy," he said. "Too many documentaries are rightly accused of preaching to the choir. This film is guaranteed to give you pause whether you're pro-choice or right-to-life."

Kaye said he will present the film at advance screenings. "I want to take it to the Bible Belt, to Pensacola (Fla.), where all the (doctor) killings took place, to high schools, to universities," he said.

Indeed. There's the rub. Kaye's film forces us to contend with the domestic terrorism that has marked the antiabortion movement for a generation. I have not yet seen the film (I am interviewed in it) but I am certain from what I know of the interviewees, that there is much in this film that the antiabortion movement would rather we not see or think about.  Here is one example:  

In 1998, Intelligence Report, the magazine of the Southern Poverty Law Center, interviewed Emily Lyons, a nurse severely wounded when a pipe bomb packed with nails explosed outside the clinic where she worked.  Lyons is also interviewed in Lake of Fire.  

On Jan. 29, a nail-packed bomb exploded outside the New Woman All Women Health Care Center in Birmingham, Ala., killing off-duty police officer Robert "Sande" Sanderson and maiming nurse Emily Lyons.

Lyons, the 42-year-old mother of two daughters, had her shins blasted away, her left eye destroyed and her right eye severely damaged. Her entire body was riddled with nails and shrapnel.

She has endured nine surgeries, lengthy rehabilitation to learn to walk again, and excruciating skin grafts and scrubbing of abscessed wounds. Her legs are still mutilated, her face and eyelids remain scarred, and shrapnel still works its way out of her body, requiring additional surgeries. Some will never be removed.

With her damaged hands, she will never again play the piano; with what is left of her vision, she can barely read. Her hearing has been damaged. And she still faces a probable year of continuing medical procedures.

The Intelligence Report interviewed Lyons and her husband, Jeff, about her injuries, their life since the attack and their feelings about accused bomber Eric Robert Rudolph, who was still a fugitive after a six-month manhunt.


(Since then, Rudolph has been captured, tried and convicted. He is also known to have pipe-bombed the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, another clinic and a gay bar.)

Read the interview to get a sense of why people like Ertelt are -- and should be -- worried.

and the efforts of the religious right to seem less extreme will be thwarted.

The efforts of politicans of all stripes to deemphasize abortion, or to otherwise control the debate, will also be thwarted.  

Whether or not anyone likes or welcomes this reality, Kaye's film will throw open the national conversation in a whole new way.

Advocates of reproductive rights would be wise to get ready.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Feb 22, 2007 at 03:49:46 AM EST

R v W, came during a time when the Viet Nam war protests were in full swing holding liberals attention.  Who put it through the SC?  Could that have been fiscal conservatives who's number one issue at the time was welfare?  Their marriage with the religious right makes for some strange bed fellows.

by grunt on Thu Feb 22, 2007 at 12:05:01 PM EST
The history of Roe is well established and it is not a right wing conspiracy.  Rather it was and is a significant advance in the history of women's reproductive freedom.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Feb 22, 2007 at 10:06:00 PM EST

I imagine that the title, Lake of Fire, came from Emily Lyons, too.  In "Words of Choice," a play of varied writings about choice that we tour around the country, we use a speech by Emily Lyons.  She is a wonderful and lovely person with a wry sense of humor.  She's had dozens of reconstructive surgeries, and she's still harassed by anti-abortion zealots.  In the selection of the speech that we use, she describes all of her injuries, and then says, "I get letters from (anti-abortion) people who tell me that I'm going to burn in a lake of fire.  I just laugh them off.  I've gone to war, been to hell ... and I've come back."

by cyncooper on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 12:24:27 AM EST
about the title.

And your play certainly gives voice to voices obscured by the various noise machines. I hope this film opens up more opportunities for people to hear Words of Choice.

by Frederick Clarkson on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 12:44:10 AM EST

The National Abortion Federation in Washington, DC started keeping statistics of anti-abortion disruptions and violence in 1977, for both Canada and the United States. Between then and now, there have been 7 murders of abortion providers and clinic staff, 14 attempted murders, 36 bombings, 150 arsons, 70 attempted bombs and arsons, 350 clinic invasions, 650 acts of vandalism, 100 assaults, 300 death threats, 2 kidnappings, and 330 stalkings. There have been over 3000 reported incidents of hate mail and harassing calls, 420 bomb threats, and over 14,000 protests outside clinics. Many of these figures are badly underreported, because abortion providers have learned to take anti-abortion violence and harassment for granted.

I wonder if a home terrorism act wouldn't be a good thing?

by Concerned on Tue Feb 27, 2007 at 10:21:03 PM EST

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