Reversing Roe | Reflections

Netflix. Reversing Roe. [NR, 2018] 99 minutes.

Movie Info (from Rotten Tomatoes)

Forty-five years after it revolutionized abortion law in America, the landmark 1973 US Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade is once again at a crossroads. In their timely new documentary Reversing Roe, filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg present a deeply illuminating look of the state of abortion and women’s rights in America. The film offers candid and riveting interviews with key figures from both sides of the divide. Intense and unflinching in its commitment to telling the whole story, Reversing Roe provides a gripping look at what’s happening on the ground in 2018. Drawing from a wealth of historical footage, it charts the period leading up to the Roe decision and documents the opposition that has followed ever since.


There is no way to summarize or even comment on the film, the bias of the producers, or the politics of the content without sorely misrepresenting or misconstruing the documentary or the people in and behind it. It’s also impossible to make any statement without triggering one side or the other. I either give too much deference, or too much dishonesty. There is no middle ground in this regard.

With that said, I have this central epistemic ethic, which is to “seek first to understand.” Below are some things I think I may have understood better as a result of watching this film.

1. The rhetoric around abortion, as with all divisive topics in our nation, is an exercise in futility. Both sides are truly talking past each other. Unless and until we have a common conversation, there can be no progress.

2. The questions underlying this entire endeavor are (or should be) understood as a tiered hierarchy. One cannot address certain questions until other contingent questions are answered. Here are the questions, as I understand them, in their hierarchical order.

  • Can we clearly identify and understand the developmental neurological markers of human gestation/development? [biology first]
  • What stage of that gestation/development is “fully human” recognized, both biologically and politically? [ontology second]
  • If a woman is pregnant with a fully recognized human being, what are the rights and privileges of each respective entity? [ethics third]
  • Consequently, if a woman is pregnant and the entity is not considered a recognized human being, then the abortion question becomes null and void. [moral contingency as an aspect of ethics]
  • What role, if any, does a government have to play in enforcing laws concerning abortion, and what overlap is there with women’s health? [politics fourth]

Biology, then ontology (philosophy), then ethics, then politics. In that order.

The film centers on the question, “how this issue became so politicized?” However, according to my framework above, the filmmakers completely missed the most important questions that precede the political one. In addition to the question being self-evident (any issue that deals with the body politic is by nature “political,”) the question itself, in the way it is framed, betrays the political leaning of the filmmakers. In short, their view is simply, “how did a health-care decision become an embattled political fight?” Well, if you don’t address the biological, ontological, and ethical question first, then you’ll never understand the political question.

At least, that’s how I see it. So far.

There may be some readers who wish for me to now “take a stand,” and state what is “right,” or what is “true,” or at the very least “state what I believe.” Okay, I’ll concede. I believe every human is worthy of life, dignity, and autonomy. Now, can we get to the important questions, and stop talking past each other?

About VIA

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