The abortion debate hits the cinema

// 23 October 2007

British film-maker Tony Kaye has produced a film entitled Lake of Fire, exploring the American abortion debate, and is the subject of an interview in The Guardian.

Kaye comes from an interesting standpoint to discuss the issue as he is neither “pro-life” nor “pro-choice”:

“If I had to tick a box I would say I was pro-choice. I would vote for a woman’s right to chose without hesitation, because without legal abortions poor women die.” But emotionally, he says, he is “completely opposed to abortion. I see it as murder – the taking of another’s life.”

The result of his own internal conflict is a documentary that is, in the conclusion of Cineaste magazine, “a maddeningly elusive film”. Shot in arty black and white, it has sequences that will dismay pro-choice feminists and pro-life fundamentalists in equal measure.

Kaye’s film shows graphic footage of an abortion of a 20-week foetus, which has attracted criticism for being biased towards the pro-life camp. But the film also shows footage of a woman who died after attempting a DIY abortion with a coat hanger, as well as showcasing the appallingly violent means by which some pro-lifers go about their campaigns:

Kaye interviews on film Bayard Britton, an abortion doctor in Florida who explains that he comes to work wearing a bullet proof vest. “If I didn’t do this job it probably wouldn’t get done. So I do it.”

Kaye also talks to Paul Hill, an anti-abortion activist who tells the film-maker that “whatever force is justified in defending the life of a born child is also justified in defending the life of an unborn child.”

In 1994 Hill, a former Presbyterian minister, put his words into action: he shot and killed Dr Britton and his colleague James Barrett. Hill was later executed for the murders.

Something that saddens me about the abortion debate in general is that opinions are so polarised. It’s rare to see anybody quoted in the media who doesn’t either believe that,

A – abortion is murder and its perpetrators should be strung up, or

B – there is absolutely no moral problem with it whatsoever, and anybody who believes otherwise is a loony bible-bashing misogynist.

I will admit, on a feminist website no less, that I am not madly keen on the idea of abortion. However, I totally identify as pro-choice. I absolutely support anybody’s right to choose what happens to their own body, and the right not to bring unwanted children into the world. That, to me, is what pro-choice is about – the right to choose, but this could mean choosing not to have an abortion on moral grounds. A personal or even a religious objection to abortion does not have to mean that a person is anti-choice.

It’s great to see that somebody appears to be exploring the issue without the extreme bias that it normally attracts.

Lake of Fire has opened in New York and is set for release across 23 US cities.

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