Picks and Pans Review: Voices

updated 07/17/1989 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/17/1989 01:00AM

"It was a beautiful February day, and I knew I was going to die..."So begins one woman's lurid account of the illegal abortion she survived as a teenager. Joining the chorus in this thoughtful production from the National Abortion Rights Action League are other women with tales of back-alley butchery, doctors who have treated victims of botched illegal abortions and lawmakers who support a woman's right to choose. Says a narrator: "Without a public outcry for choice, the decision about a woman's reproductive rights could soon be given over to judges, state legislators, panels of doctors and clergy—everyone except women themselves." (Laura Raybourn, Inc.; $19.95; 717-739-1134)

ECLIPSE OF REASON

Charlton Heston, introducing the case, says: "Since 1973 abortion has claimed more than 20 million mute and innocent victims. The silence has to stop." This provocative 27-minute video, endorsed by the National Right to Life Committee, focuses on the fetus's rights.

Though 91 percent of the annual abortions in America take place in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, the producers of this graphic video concentrate on later abortions. While the tone is calm, the images are wrenching. As viewers watch an unborn fetus blissfully coiled within its mother's womb, a voice-over announces, "During the next eight minutes...this child will be destroyed before your eyes." Shot with a fiber-optic camera, the tape then shows the 4½-month-old fetus's umbilical cord being severed, its tiny arms and legs being plucked from its body and its skull being crushed. Afterward the bloodied parts are pulled from the womb and stacked on an operating room table.

"Can anyone doubt this child has experienced an unimaginable agony?" asks obstetrician Bernard Nathanson, who wrote, produced and narrates this tape. Nathan-son has personal cause for his revulsion: As former head of the world's largest abortion clinic, he says, "I bear ultimate responsibility for over 75,000 abortions." His dramatic move to the pro-life pulpit evolved, he says, with advances in obstetrics and fetology, which have "allowed us to perceive without question the unmistakable humanity of the unborn child."

His view is backed by other physicians, and there are testimonies from two women, their faces hidden, who have been irreparably injured by late abortions. The uterus of one was punctured during the procedure, while the other drifted into a suicidal depression after seeing her fetus lying in a bucket of blood. "All abortion is violence," says Nathanson at the end of this emotionally charged 1987 film, "and violence is an impermissible alternative in a world of reason." (Bernadell, Inc.; $44.90; 212-463-7000)

ABORTION: FOR SURVIVAL

This half-hour pro-choice film takes a global view. One expert argues, "Making abortion illegal does not reduce its incidence." In Brazil, the procedure is banned, yet there are twice as many abortions every year as there are in the U.S.

The tape also explores the medical advances—the aspiration syringe, the RU 486 abortion pill recently developed in France—and takes issue with President Bush's stand on adoption as an alternative to abortion. While most families want to adopt a white baby, 51 percent of the babies up for adoption are minorities.

As viewers watch a woman in her sixth week undergo a vacuum aspiration abortion, which lasts 84 seconds, experts warn of the grave dangers that could result from making abortion illegal. Says Kenneth C. Edelin M.D.: "The most vulnerable, the weakest in our society, poor women, will be the first affected and the most severely affected."

Here an aborted embryo of 8 weeks appears to be a few tablespoons of blood and tissue. "It is clearly not a baby," says narrator (and actress-mother) Christina Pickles, "despite what antiabortionists say in their propaganda." The tape lists groups, such as the American Medical Association and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, that support abortion. Says David Grimes M.D.: "When you legalize abortion, the nation's health improves. If you restrict abortion, the nation's health suffers." (Fund for the Feminist Majority; $20; 703-522-2214 or 213-651-0495)

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