In our Easter and Passover stories, life and hope co-star, just as they do within our movement. So also do life and hope headline Roe v. Wade, the new Hollywood feature directed by Cathy Allyn and Nick Loeb. If you’ve not yet seen the movie, I encourage you to watch it. You’ll find a link within my film review below.
Peace to you this weekend,
“Pawns are the soul of the game.” – Bernard Nathanson in Roe v. Wade
So says the young, woefully naive, Bernard Nathanson to his father during a game of chess, doting girlfriend at his side. As Nick Loeb’s film Roe v. Wade begins, with Loeb in the role of Nathanson, the line seemingly foreshadows the introduction of Norma McCorvey, AKA Jane Roe, perhaps history’s most tragically well-known pawn. A troubled, economically disadvantaged teen who dropped out of her Texas high school, became pregnant, and sought an illegal abortion, the vulnerable McCorvey was, for those who wanted abortion laws repealed, the poster child they needed—and successfully used—to win their case.
As the movie progresses, though, it becomes clear that Loeb’s Nathanson is not only the co-founder of NARAL and an abortionist who claimed, by his own estimate, 70,000 lives, but himself a pawn, “a person or thing manipulated and used by others.” And Loeb presents this supposition well, portraying Nathanson as a credible medical expert and sincere, well-meaning women’s rights ally, a figure his peers knew was critical to generating widespread public support for the attempt to legalize abortion in America.
In just under two hours, Roe attempts to tell “the untold story” behind the infamous 1973 Supreme Court decision. What I experienced were several stories. At the heart of each: the question of truth, with a piercing spotlight on temptation’s power to quickly dissolve the solid intentions of even the most decent person.
Roe invites us to witness internal struggles common to humans weighing right and wrong; but the struggles among this group were uncommon, and their surrenders led to deadly consequences. Nathanson assumed that all doctors eventually breached their Hippocratic oath, which explicitly excluded abortion as treatment. This, along with a haunting memory of his helplessness during one girlfriend’s traumatic abortion, justified his chosen career specialization. Its lucrative benefits quickly convinced his wife, despite her initial morality-driven hesitation. It’s even suggested to the viewer that abortion wasn’t at the top of feminist icon Betty Friedan’s priority list, until Larry Lader, NARAL’s early founder, who personifies evil in the movie, convinced her it should be.
The film extends its right-wrong dichotomy beyond flawed individuals. Not surprisingly, Planned Parenthood inhabits the crosshairs. Those who watched Unplanned will recognize the throwing-under-a-bus maneuver likewise achieved in Roe v. Wade. While the former film subsequently rolled back and forth over the organization mercilessly, the latter suggests a family planning mission gone gravely awry. Friedan questions how effective a strategic partnership with Planned Parenthood could be, given its earlier brochures condemned abortion since it “kills the life of a baby after it has begun” and “is dangerous to your life and health.” Similarly, the antagonists in the film note founder Margaret Sanger’s espousal of eugenics and the role she believed abortion could, should, play.
The movie attempts to pull back a soiled curtain on the judiciary, beginning in Dallas and ending at the Supreme Court itself. While we see “the other side” stencil “choice” and “privacy” on its sails, toss calculated lies into shark-infested media waters, and chart a clear course among the masses, the movie depicts those on the pro-life side, legal minds, the religious, the otherwise biologically informed, as caring yet disorganized, repeatedly shocked yet too numb to fight back effectively. Loeb’s film suggests one incompetence and preventable miscalculation after another, along with a disturbing series of right-wrong choices among the justices themselves that ultimately resulted in the most superior “wrong” on January 22, 1973.
Redemption is a welcome salve in movies like these, and the viewer gets to experience a bit of that with Nathanson, when he poignantly enters the light of truth, with humility, repentance, and courage. Dr. Nathanson wrote in Hand of God, his autobiography, that truth, in the form of ultrasound technology introduced in the mid-1970s, brought about his conversion. Loeb’s performance in the film, when Nathanson witnesses this truth, grips the viewer. He sees life, which he has destroyed thousands of times.
The scene should shake each of us by the shoulders, pro-life or not. This isolated moment at the film’s climax, when a human’s existence ends only because she is the weak among the powerful, is something we continue to allow. Worse, too many look away. This is the painful truth.
The Roe v. Wade cast is as impressive as Loeb’s feat of bringing this movie into the mainstream. It’s worth your time and reflection (you can stream it on the MCFL website). While I appreciated the film’s historic context that surrounded the case and a close look at players whose actions shaped its outcome, the greater value of this movie exists as a grim reminder that the darkness of lies constantly threatens the light of truth.
Today, the illogical allures of “freedom” and “equality” remain the rhetorical foundations of a barbaric act. And the mob mentality fuels it all, more dangerously now because of lightning fast communication via social media and the “I decide” mantra that sustains it. Yet supporters of life and of women’s best interests have become more sophisticated, our argument more impactful, and we are undeniably the side of truth. With the help of films like this one, we will win. Life will win.
Myrna Maloney Flynn is a skilled and creative communications practitioner with leadership experience in marketing, broadcasting, account management, teaching and, currently, higher education. She earned a B.A. in mass communications and political science from Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, an M.A.T. in English from Smith College and is presently enrolled in an M.B.A. program at the University of Massachusetts’ Isenberg School of Management. Flynn’s long-held beliefs, and recent challenges to defend them, inform her willful commitment to saving lives of the unborn through education, dialogue and outreach to populations that are both demographically and politically diverse.
In her free time, Flynn enjoys travel, historic fiction, and running. A native Minnesotan, she’s resided in Northampton for 15 years with her husband and four children.