The new film South Dakota: A Woman’s Right to Choose, a documentary/drama examining abortion, is designed to bring new life to the abortion debate, or so the director hopes. Whether it actually does remains to be seen.
The film, written and directed by Bruce Isacson, follows two teenage girls facing unwanted pregnancies. The first girl is a high school student with a football star boyfriend and the second a homeless teenager pregnant as a result of rape. These two stories are interrupted with footage of interviews with advocates, scientists and politicians on both sides of the abortion debate.
According to Isacson, the purpose of the film is to offer an even portrayal of both sides of the abortion debate in order to foster better discussion of the issue. He writes:
“Since the passage of Roe vs. Wade our country has been torn apart by the subject of abortion. This debate stirred me to produce an entertainment experience that would touch people’s hearts, while even-handedly portraying both sides of this controversial issue
I made the decision not to manipulate the audience with my personal opinions, but to allow moviegoers to reach their own conclusion about a “woman’s right to choose” after viewing the film.”
However, after the film’s initial town hall screening with nearly 1,000 teenage girls from California high schools and the following audience discussion, some are questioning the film’s neutrality, accusing the film of leaning to the pro-life side.
The Los Angeles Times report on the film voices the criticism best:
“Isacson said his movie’s purpose is to edify, inform and not take sides, but some may view “South Dakota,” intentionally or not, as subtly weighted against abortion. The film’s emotional highlight, after all, is the rescue of 14-year-old Barb by her boyfriend from an abortion clinic exam room and its grossly insensitive nurses. As for Chris [the homeless victim of rape], even the staunchest abortion foes usually concede that abortion is acceptable in the case of rape.”
The LA Times also reports the statement of Liz Benichou, a Beverly Hills High School senior who was at the town hall screening, who argued that the movie was “more pro-life than pro-choice. . . . They made it seem negative when abortion was brought up. When one girl had a baby, they made it seem so positive, but not every story works out that way.”
I have not seen the full film so I cannot say if such “accusations” are correct, but this criticism makes me wonder how one actually could portray abortion positively and with the same emotional impact of giving life to a newborn baby.
The fact that the positivity or negativity between the options of abortion or giving birth to a life could possibly be under debate, I think goes to prove Isacson’s concern that the two sides of the abortion debate have become too strident and isolated from one another. You may be able to portray abortion as necessary or right, depending on your position, but never as something positive. For no matter where you stand on the issue, abortion is a tragedy for both the mother and the child and the creation of life should be valued and honored no matter the circumstances. If abortion must be a choice, it should be the very last choice, and under no circumstances a positive one. I hope that perhaps the movie manages to portray at least that message amid its neutrality.
Watch the trailer below and see what you think.