MPAA Rating: Not rated at the time of this review
USCCB Rating: Not rated at the time of this review
Reel Rating: 4 out of 5 reels
In just nine months, on January 22, 2023, the United States will mark the 50th year since Roe v. Wade effectively made abortion legal in the United States. It is an event that will not go smoothly and has the potential to make the January 6th riot look like a mild Canadian disagreement.
The Matter of Life is a fantastic new documentary on pro-life philosophy and tactics that has the potential to sway hearts and minds away from a catastrophic future and towards “a more perfect union.” That could happen. But although I am hopeful, I am also skeptical.
The documentary begins by framing key questions, especially “What is the unborn?” So many life issues would be resolved if this could be defined. Using biology, physiology, and logic, the first twenty minutes effectively demonstrates that the unborn are not only human but contain the same ontological qualities of humans in any stage of life outside the womb. Thus, if any and all human persons have rights, so do the unborn. Our knowledge in the past was somewhat limited by lack of more precise knowledge, but when doctors can now perform heart surgery on a twenty-week-old fetus, there really is no way to ignore the truth.
The film really hits its stride when it discusses the most effective “threats” against the abortion industry. The first is women. By now, it is a well-established fact that the early suffragettes including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Seaton saw abortion as a violation of women’s basic dignity. What I didn’t know was that NARAL, the largest abortion lobby, was founded by two men, one of whom was an outspoken advocate of population control. Indeed, the first major publication to endorse legal abortion was not The New York Times but Playboy Magazine.
When the National Organization of Woman (NOW) announced shortly after Roe that it supported the decision, a third of its board resigned in protest. They continue to fight for all women through organizations that provide a myriad of prenatal and postnatal care that Planned Parenthood completely neglects.
The second threat, which has become extraordinarily potent in the last decade or so, are former abortion workers. This movement started with former PP director Abby Johnson’s excellent memoir Unplanned and now includes hundreds. The Matter of Life focuses on Dr. Anthony Levatino, a surgeon who performed abortions for twenty years. He describes the various procedures with clinical precision, accompanied by animations that are direct but not unnecessarily graphic.
In late-term operations, during which he had to count the body parts, Levatino would briefly look away so he wouldn’t have to see the face. After years of infertility, when his family was finally able have a child, he was forced to “face” the reality—and so he left the practice forever.
There are many other wonderful moments and quotes. My personal favorite section was about the economics of the pro-choice industry. Abortion is always profitable – for the doctor, the nurses, the insurance companies, and the government. Pro-life work always costs something: medical care, formula, counseling, clothing, diapers, and more. Which is more compassionate?
Despite the film’s fine work, I nonetheless was left troubled.
Who is this documentary for? These reasons, while brilliantly illustrated, have been around for generations. There is no longer a lack of scientific knowledge, moral reasoning, or legal pondering. The current pro-choice argument seems to be “Shut up and let us do what we want!” There’s no reasonable response that will break through such extreme irrationalism.
When I started writing this review, the end of Roe seemed a long way off. But as I write these final lines, a draft has been leaked of a Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe. Based on the response, I’ll be praying for all the justices’ safety and avoiding metropolitan areas in the months to come.
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