Abortion advocates claim to be very keen on talking about abortion. They want women to shout out their abortions, to express pride and joy in a procedure they increasingly acknowledge as an act of killing. Abortion campaigners encourage women to tweet their abortions, wear T-shirts proclaiming I had an abortion in the vain hope that this will somehow break the visceral horror that still surrounds abortion, decades after its legalization in Britain and the United States.
There are several problems with this approach: first, women aren’t proving too enthusiastic about pretending their abortion experiences were as splendid as the industry would like them to say it was; secondly, women who do talk about their abortions but express the ‘wrong attitude’ i.e. regret and grief, tend to find abortion campaigners are suddenly very keen for women to shut up about their abortions after all.
Thirdly, and most glaringly of all, when it comes to actually talking about abortion – the grisly procedure by which a tiny fetus is ripped limb from limb with forceps or suctioned out of the sanctuary of the womb by a vacuum aspirator – abortion advocates seriously do not want to know, and they particularly do not want women to know. Pussyhat wearing activists inexplicably get terribly coy about the whole thing and stumble through euphemisms about evacuating the uterine contents and gentle suction.
Along comes HUSH, a film produced “to find the truth for the sake of women’s health.” Intriguingly, the producer, director and executive producer have very different views on abortion, a partnership across an increasingly polarized debate that seems to have forced all parties to work very hard at maintaining a sense of perspective throughout the film, focusing solely on women’s health and the potential consequences of abortion for the women who have them.
The end product is a professional, persuasive piece of investigative journalism, fronted by Punam Kumar Gill, who manages to combine a dogged determination to break the silence surrounding abortion with a sensitivity borne out of her own personal experience of loss. With the film slowly gaining recognition worldwide, CWR spoke with Joses Martin, the film’s producer and editor, about how he came to be involved in the project and the challenges it has brought with it.
CWR: What was the genesis of this film? Was there a particular event or idea that inspired you to produce it?
Joses Martin: We first started thinking about this subject because we heard a woman speaking and sharing her story of having had multiple abortions at a young age, and she was reporting that they harmed her both physically and mentally, and that she ultimately regretted making those decisions. And she also brought up the very strange topic of abortion and breast cancer. This incited us to dig in a little bit, “What is this woman talking about?” To ask; “if she and others are reporting negative problems, then why wouldn’t that be shared on a public level?” We knew there was going to be one of two answers; A. Anti-abortion individuals were making up negative effects to attack the institution of abortion or B. Pro-abortion individuals were avoiding or covering up negative effects to protect the institution of abortion.
It reminded me very much of rape accusation cases—where women have come forward to say ‘someone hurt me’ and the general reaction is ‘how terrible of those women to say those terrible things about someone that we respect and trust’. They’re not listened to or respected, but are further hurt and accused back by a society that should be protecting them.
For the sake of these women involved, this investigation seemed to us like a worthwhile endeavour.
CWR: What were the main obstacles/challenges you faced while filming?
Joses Martin: We certainly found biases on both sides of the table, and this made the whole investigation messy, and tough to find the truth. Just a little bit of bias on a scientific level has a huge amount of potential to skew the data; by pointing at facts that support your view, and avoiding those that don’t. So that was difficult. And also, the fact that people just didn’t want to talk to us. Time after time we were denied interview by health organizations, researchers, abortion clinics, etc. Tough to do a doc or a full investigation when no one wants to talk to you! But this played into the final film in an interesting way in itself.
CWR: The notes on the film that you identify as neutral on the issue, whereas your executive producer is pro-life and the director pro-choice. How did that effect the dynamics of the film? Were there any major conflicts?
Joses Martin: There were constant conflicts between the group of us! It extended the process significantly but it also made for a very well-rounded presentation. We neutralized conversation about the morality of abortion to focus solely on these supposed hidden health risks involved, and we scaled back any extreme statements to focus only on well-supported findings.
CWR: What has the response to the film when it was released? What reaction did you get at film festivals? Were there any protests/walk-outs?
Joses Martin: We’ve had some protests and we’ve had some walkouts! Mainly by those directly involved in the abortion industry, or abortion advocacy organizations. We know that some people are unhappy about even opening up this conversation that they think should remain closed, shut and ‘hushed’. But what we’re most concerned with is the average open-minded individual, those like myself, with a complex view on the subject of abortion who want to put women’s health first, and from those people—whether card-carrying feminist, mother, film critic, or film maker—we’ve consistently heard stunned ‘wow’s, and a wide range of wonderful responses that hit everyone differently and inspire a variety of great thoughts and conversations.
Here is a quote from a Canadian female documentary director who recently watched the film:
“I think it makes us question medical practices for women in a very focused piece of journalism where the filmmaker has her own health at stake… When you know that most of our knowledge about the human body has historically been built on the male body (because women with their menstrual cycles were not seen as stable subjects), it is time that more understanding be made on how our gendered bodies function differently. This film gives us some understanding of the studies taking place and of the political positions of researchers. It is frightening to know that drug companies with their vested interests control much of the research that gets done. This film should be seen by women as it reveals the gender bias that is still with the medical establishment. It is a provocative feminist documentary delivered with a sense of urgency.”
CWR: To your knowledge, has the film helped re-open the debate about abortion and women’s health?
Joses Martin: Has it reopened the worldwide debate about abortion and women’s health? Not yet, no. But it’s a small part. The overall ‘safety’ of abortion is something that we don’t even attempt to tackle in the film, because it gets too complex, but the long-term risk is something that has never yet been included in this conversation in a real way, and it really is one of the most important aspects of the conversation. It’s not our goal to conclude whether abortion is ultimately safe or a good decision or not, we leave that up to the individual woman based on her individual ideals, but having all the information is vitally important to being able to make that decision for yourself and that’s what HUSH is really about.
CWR: What impact is the film having?
Joses Martin: The film is slowly gaining a large reach and impact, but it is a grass roots movement that starts from the ground up; individuals seeing the film and starting healthy conversations, sharing with others, and sharing with decision makers. Specifically, what we find is that even before reaching the public on a wide scale, it is reaching into government and educational institutions. Recently every MP in Australia was given a copy of the film, and I know that a lot of health organizations have been made aware of it at this point, even if they are keeping quiet on the topic while they still can.
CWR: Have you had difficulties with distribution because of the content?
Joses Martin: We definitely have had difficulties with the distribution because of the controversial content, we have had to distribute it ourselves because of this. Luckily there have been some very strong supporters of the film who have become passionate about getting it seen which has resulted in over 200 worldwide locally hosted screenings
CWR: Do you have plans for any further films on the subject of abortion?
Joses Martin: In the process one new topic that interested us quite a bit was the topic of men and abortion. People always think about abortion as fully a women’s subject, but indirectly men are always involved in one way or another—whether it’s pressuring and forcing women into an abortion, or feeling a long term sense of regret from that time they took their college girlfriend to get an abortion, or the abortion that was hidden from them by their wife and they only found out about years later. So we hope to pursue that topic further, but at the moment we’ve got quite a few other documentary projects on the go unrelated to the subject.
• For more information about the film and to organize a screening, check out the website at hushfilm.com