Scary movie

Culture | A PBS documentary should worry abortionists but cheer pro-lifers

Issue: "Stand in the gap," Nov. 5, 2005

The state of Mississippi now has only one abortion clinic. Over the past decade, the pro-life movement has shut down the others, one by one. Now the state's last abortion clinic is in trouble and may close down by the end of the year.

"The Last Abortion Clinic," a documentary on the PBS show Frontline (Tuesday, Nov. 8, 9:00 p.m. ET) chronicles how this happened. The show's bias is pro-abortion, clearly designed to alarm PBS viewers who consider abortion to be what the program calls "a fundamental right." But pro-lifers will find the documentary encouraging. And it will give them ideas.

Producer Raney Aronson earlier gave us "The Jesus Factor," a documentary on the political influence of American evangelicals. In the same vein, "The Last Abortion Clinic" shows how Christian sidewalk counselors and organized activists are succeeding in putting abortionists out of business.

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Mr. Aronson focuses on Mississippi, where the pro-life movement has had its most dramatic success, though similar tactics are bearing fruit in other states. Betty Thompson, former director of that last abortion clinic, sums up the strategy: Pro-lifers decided that "we are going to chip away at Roe v. Wade, until the law is on the books, but nobody will be able to access the service."

The organization Pro-Life Mississippi, exercising its clout in the state legislature among not only Republicans but also Democrats, pushed the state to pass laws preventing tax money from being used for abortions. No institution that takes state money, including Medicaid, can perform abortions-a major deterrent for most hospitals. Thirty-three states have such laws, which the Supreme Court has ruled to be constitutional.

Mississippi does allow state money-earned from pro-life license plates-to go to crisis pregnancy centers, which provide personal help for women with unwanted pregnancies, but the centers will not refer women to abortion clinics.

Informed-consent laws are also proving effective in cutting the numbers of abortions. Women must learn about the development of their babies and the alternatives to abortion before making a decision. They also must have waiting periods to prevent a hasty choice they will regret later. Now some states are requiring that women considering an abortion first see an ultrasound of their baby in the womb, an emotional experience that changes many women's choice.

A major clinic-killer is making abortion clinics conform to the same health and facility standards as other ambulatory surgical facilities. Mississippi requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. But "the bulk of our doctors come from out of state," laments Ms. Thompson. "They fly in, they fly out."

Irony abounds. A scene of impoverished women in a Delta doctor's office is meant to demonstrate how poor women are being denied the right to an abortion. But the cute babies on their laps make an unintentional pro-life statement.

The documentary also explores the legal contexts that allow abortion clinics to stay open or to be closed down. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments Nov. 30 in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood, a case that could decide whether the Roberts-led court will allow for more state restrictions or eliminate them. The case from New Hampshire involves a state law requiring notice to parents before a pregnant minor may have an abortion and other restrictions.

Liberal rhetoric today presents conservatives as stupid, but this conflicts with another liberal strategy, to present conservatives as cunning conspirators bent on taking over the world. Both are present in "The Last Abortion Clinic." This documentary shows sidewalk counselors in an unflattering light, including a man praying with his rear end in the air. But then an abortionist has to admit: "The assault on abortion rights is very clever. It's very smart. And we are losing."

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith


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