The following post is written by Reagan Nielsen, Midwest Regional Coordinator for Students for Life of America.
When I was contacted last year to have a camera follow me around for a documentary on abortion called Abortion: Stories Women Tell, of course I was excited to show the pro-life perspective because we are often incorrectly portrayed by the mainstream press as not compassionate and rather single-minded. But the reality isn’t that at all – at least in my work with high school and college students. So naturally, while apprehensive, I was looking forward to giving a glimpse into my own work in the pro-life movement as the Midwest Regional Coordinator for Students for Life of America.
The goal of the film, as explained to me, was to show abortion in a non-partisan light and allow viewers to decide for themselves. The director, Tracy Droz Tragos, chose Missouri for the location of the film because that is where she is from. The focus of the film was on their restrictive laws on abortion, including a mandatory 72-hour waiting period for women seeking abortion.
I was followed by the camera crew to the University of Missouri last year where I was displaying the Planned Parenthood Project on campus with Mizzou Students for Life. The display uses statistics from Planned Parenthood’s own annual report who show that their business model is geared towards pushing abortion above all else and reveals the enormous amount of taxpayer dollars they get every year. The producers also followed me in my everyday life; working from home but also on the road to visit our student groups.
The big reveal: seeing the film
I was invited to the film’s premiere, which took place at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City earlier this week. I got to walk the red carpet and interact with the other people who appeared in the film, including an abortionist. I was really nervous to be around her. I mean, this woman takes the life of innocent babies every day – what we possibly have in common besides the fact that we appeared in this film together? More on this later.
As the room turned dark and the film played, it became clear to me that this was not a “balanced” film. In fact, it was the complete opposite. This was a film whose producers wanted to destigmatize abortion. They wanted to show the difficulties women had to go through to get an abortion in Missouri and pull on the heartstrings of viewers to move them in the pro-choice direction.
The film was broken up into different parts and when it got to me, I was very disappointed to see the clips they chose to use – or rather, I was disappointed in the editing. I was happy that they did show me talking on the phone to one of my students and explaining the mission of Students for Life of America, how many groups we have nationally and what we do.
But then they showed shots of pro-life protesters that we often see in the biased media. These protesters yell and scream at women entering abortion facilities. I was shown in the film saying that we don’t condone that type of behavior at all but it was still hard to see that kind of footage in a so-called balanced film on the abortion issue.
There are so many pro-life organizations that are compassionate and loving towards women seeking abortions or who need healing afterwards and I feel those protesters that scream and yell, while they get attention, are in the minority.
The conversation afterwards
After the film, participants in the movie participated in a Q&A to talk about it. I was emotionally drained at this point. It was a very emotional film because they followed women who had abortions and who were going through them. They even followed one woman into the operating room at the facility, where the suction of the abortion machine was loudly heard. We were able to hear the death of that child.
The reaction from the crowd watching the film was very cold towards the pro-life position. After all, it was being shown in New York City, where abortion is widely accepted and rampant.
I did my best to answer questions and continue to be a kind and loving representation of the pro-life movement but it was difficult because I felt like the producers had betrayed my trust by saying the film was going to be balanced, when in reality it was not at all.
The director at the beginning of the Q&A said she was pro-choice and wanted her daughters to have access basic women’s health care (i.e. abortion).
The ride home
On the airplane ride back home, I had the opportunity to sit next to the abortionist who was featured in the film. She recognized me from the night before and was impressed at how I handled myself and the compassion I had shown in the film. Because I wasn’t yelling or screaming, but kind and loving, her and I were able to have a civil (and interesting) conversation for the entire two-and-half-hour flight.
Obviously we didn’t agree but to see her humanity, and for her to see mine, in a very heated issue, was important. I don’t know what will come of our conversation in the future but she is in my prayers (and please keep her in yours).
Overall, the experience of being in the film was disappointing because of how the pro-life movement was portrayed but I do feel grateful for the chance to show a glimpse into my own work – and the great work of Students for Life and the courageous students that I work with. Abortion is the greatest human rights tragedy in our lifetime but I do believe that this is the generation that will end abortion and we will do it with love and compassion, not hatred and condemnation.