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In light of the Supreme Court decision to uphold the federal ban on so called, partial birth abortion, we can expect the religious right to take every advantage of the court's apparent opening of the door to increased state level regulation of abortion.  The issue that has riven American politics for decades, will continue to do so.  

Although some Inside the Beltway Dems have sought to downplay the issue -- that is clearly no longer an option, as state-level legislation and a likely flurry of court cases designed to test how far the court will go in restricting abortion rights, if not completely overturn Roe vs. Wade promises to define the politics of the issue for a long time to come.  The additional factor, as I have pointed out several times, is the Hollywood documentary film Lake of Fire, scheduled for release in the Fall, and currently making the rounds of film festivals.

The synopsis on the distributor's web site states:  

"Fifteen years in the making,this epic documentary stands unquestionably as the definitive work on the ever-dividing issue of abortion. Filmed entirely in black and white, director Tony Kaye's Lake of Fire probes into the complexities of abortion proving both sides of the issue have equal historical and moral credibility. It is measured, intelligent, and suitably objective, regardless of one's own position."

While one can always take a distributor's blurb with a grain of salt, in fact, reviewers so far tend to agree with this assessment.

It is important not to lose sight of the signficance of this and how, along with the recent court decision, it may contribute to an already altered political landscape. The Supreme Court handed the religious right a signficant victory, and early indications are, we will will see a lot of fresh energy and new legislative and legal initiatives.

Meanwhile, for a film to have impact, of course people have to see it; it has to be discussed in homes and bars and in the media.  But will it?  This is a topic that makes people uncomfortable, for many reasons, and many people avoid conversations about it, because the conversations about abortion tend to be tendentious. This is especially tricky territory for  a lot of pols, who know they can't please everyone. Abortion opens up questions of the meaning of life and death; of who gets to decide and under what circumstances -- things people, of course, feel strongly about -- and obviously much, much more. And yet, the interest groups involved in the issue, tend to be politically potent and have strong views that pols oppose at their peril.

There are many who wish the issue would go away, but the simple fact is, that it is not going to go away. One of the reasons for this is that the religous right will never let it go away. Thus the political reality at the moment is that the court ruling gives the religious right a political boost at a time when it has been regrouping in the wake of the 2006 elections, and they intend to take every advantage.

Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) told the Associated Press:

``We've been losing fight after fight after fight,'' she said, adding that people have become complacent about protecting abortion rights because they have existed for more than a generation.

The upholding of the ban was the culmination of a dozen years of efforts by abortion opponents to outlaw a procedure that public opinion polls have shown most Americans believe should be illegal.

The public is nearly evenly split on abortion in general, polls show, but the vast majority of Americans back some restrictions on it. Surveys have found that more than 60 percent favor banning the procedure outlawed in Wednesday's ruling. That makes the ban an exceedingly difficult political proposition even for Democrats who are strong champions of abortion rights.

``It's a Democratic Congress, but it's not a pro-choice Congress,'' NOW's Gandy said, adding that it was unlikely that lawmakers would step in to try to reverse the ban or take other action to beat back additional abortion curbs.

The AP also reported:

``We have a court now that has correctly yielded to the Congress and the legislative branch,'' said Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. ``This will bolster state legislators who are reflecting the views of their constituents on abortion.''

Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, a leading sponsor of the ban, said the court's ruling could return abortion-rights questions to the states, where he said they belong.

The news so far makes clear that the religious right will use the opening provided by the ruling to push the envelope. Of course, this has already been happening, as Moiv has reported at Talk to Action, many times.  I think that Senator Feinstein hits the nail on the head. While the religious right has been active in undermining abortion rights, too many of those who support abortion rights have taken abortion rights for granted.

This taking the right for granted, seems to me to have two main foundations. One is the belief that Roe will not be overturned no matter what; and the other is the belief that religious right cannot gain sufficient political power to signficantly curtail abortion rights, or anything else that matters.

While I have no panacea to offer in light of these observations, I think that at the very least it is important to be able to say that one does not have to believe that the court will ultimately overturn Roe to recognize that the many issues around abortion will continue to keep the matter alive; deeply contentious; and far from settled for a long time to come. Therefore, one of the challenges of our time is going to be to get a lot better at doing the politics of abortion and stop the foolish game of avoidance.

And this brings me back around to Lake of Fire.  

I believe that this film that is going to affect the national discourse in unpredictable ways. I have not yet seen it, but I have read quite a bit about it, and play a role in it. The film opens up the matter of antiabortion violence in a way that has at least one antiabortion leader worried; and it is the first film to show an actual surgical abortion. The film is said not to be intentionally grotesque or sensational, but unflinching in its approach. That such a film may receive a wide audience, is something to take into serious consideration; and those who understand what the impact of a major film can be, should go out of their way to see the film, and consider what it may mean as the audience widens and it begins to inform the national conversation.  That it may do so in the context of a reenergized antiabortion movement, and as the primary season gets fully underway, means that the way abortion politics is done may be about to change dramatically.  

Lake of Fire has, to my knowledge, been screened so far at festivals in Tornonto, Santa Barbara, Philadephia, New York City, and Durham, North Carlolina. The Nahsville Film Festival is screening Lake of Fire Monday, April 23rd; Berkshire International Film Festival in May.
Nashville Scene  blurbs the film this way in its advance coverage of the Nashville Film Festival:  

LAKE OF FIRE (6:45 p.m.) Beautifully (and ironically) shot in black-and-white over 17 years by director Tony Kaye, best known for the Edward Norton neo-Nazi drama American History X, this staggering documentary about the abortion debate leaves no position unchallenged-yet both sides may likely feel that it proves their point. Kaye talks without judgment to pro-choice and anti-abortion zealots, incorporates a spectrum of voices from Noam Chomsky to Nat Hentoff to pro-life activist Randall Terry, follows a clearly conflicted woman to her appointment at a clinic, and gives equal consideration to murdered clinic workers and the clearly human remains of aborted fetuses. The result is not a tendentious screed but an engrossing and extraordinarily rich examination of moral impasse. It forces both sides to grapple with the real issue: the sanctity of life. Kaye will attend.

Update [2007-4-22 4:12:23 by Frederick Clarkson]: Here is The Boston Globe's mini-review from the Sundance Film Festival:  

"Lake of Fire"

Tony Kaye's epic documentary on the abortion wars stunned Sundance audiences. Kaye includes voices of reason and fanaticism on both sides, and if the ravings of the religious right are hard to stomach, so is the graphic footage of abortion procedures. Which is precisely the point: "Lake" wants to break through decades of encrusted rhetoric to make us think again. With one slow reveal of Norma McCorvey , a.k.a. "Jane Roe ," the movie upends all you assumed about this subject. -- T.B

Originally posted to Frederick Clarkson on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 08:09 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  What does that mean, how are we supposed to (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rippen Kitten


    Wanted: A Dem who can win PA-18 in 2008!

    by AntKat on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 08:10:23 PM PDT

    •  I am not sure exactly what you are asking, but (5+ / 0-)

      several things come immediately to mind.

      1. The prochoice side has, as Sen. Feinstein points out, beem more complacent than the other side. I know that the prochoice community has tried to address that, but we have, IMO, not done as good a job as we might.
      1. We have to learn a great deal more about the religious right than most of us do, to better inform our political thinking about formidable adversaries. As Janet Benshoof once said, the anti-PBA campain was in the works for years before the prochoice community saw it coming. She rightly felt that this failure of intelligence if you will, was costly on many fronts. And that is to cite but one example.
      1. The prochoice community needs to get a lot more oriented to and better at electoral politics, IMO. This has been a signature strength of the religious right, and we are all still playing catch-up.
      1. Finally, and most important, we have to be open to change. The circumstances are changing all around us, and as I pointed out in this diary, they are changing dramatically.

      That ought to do for starters.

      •  We haven't been complacent, sir. (9+ / 0-)

        We haven't been listened to. Every time a diary on abortion is posted, almost always by women, only a handful of men post or rec.   If we complain about Casey types--anti-choice candidates who cross the line to vote Repub on stem cells and abortion--being backed by the DNC and the state level power brokers and say we consider them pretty lame, we are told that we are single issue voters  and not loyal liberals. Happens to me all the time.

        The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake.

        by irishwitch on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 08:40:19 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  many people have, in fact, been complacent (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Rippen Kitten

          and I was not referring to the blogosphere, although I agree that there are certainly many who have raised the matter here, including me on a number of occasions. That the conversations often do not qo well is a testament to a lot of things, including the urgent need to turn people around on a lot of key points, and to get them on board.

          The complacency is widespread, and I have seen it over many years, before and since the advent of the blogosphere.

          •  I disagree. (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            AntKat, crose, suicide blonde, megaera

            Women cry out about this--we KNOW just how precarious it is.  But the Old Boys Network ignotes us--and if we say we won't vote for their candidates,we're told we're not loyal enough. Kos and his cohorts pull this every time and some, of us are sick to death of it.

            The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake.

            by irishwitch on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 08:48:16 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I have seen lots of women (0+ / 0-)

              of all ages who are, infact, complacent. I have also seen many prochoice men who are complacent for many of the same reasons.  

              I cannot speak to your particular experience, and I appreciate what you are saying about old boy networks who may not take these matters as seriously as you do. As painful as it is, nothing new there. But please do my a favor and take what I am saying seriously. I am on your side as you know very well, and I have been doing this for a long time and I really do know what I am talking about.

              •  I do take it seriously-- (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                but I think you're pointing the finger in the wrong direction.

                I WILL say people like my Mil and SiLs and my braindead Barbie Doll nieces who all SAY they are pro-choice, but who all vote Republican  because they are fundamentalists and have a kneejerk reaction to Dems, are the problem.

                The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake.

                by irishwitch on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 09:25:58 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  well (0+ / 0-)

                  I think you are not taking what I am saying seriously at all, irishwitch, which I regret. Whether your ears are closed in general or just to me, I have no idea. But I can tell you that there are a lot of on the ground prochoice activists who understand exactly what I am talking about; as does Sen. Feinstein quoted above.

                  •  Not closed. (4+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    moiv, crose, suicide blonde, megaera

                    Just telling you my own experiences.  I have found that the party structure  doesn't seem to give a shit,a nd that way too many women aren't willing to yell loudly at the Powers That Be--and are discouraged from doing so by  people like kos--but they aren't complacent about the fate of ROe.  They KNOW what is at stake,; what they don't know is what to DO about it.

                    When I mention abfemale political Lysistrata, I get called a single issue voter and, worst, an idiot, for suggesting that MAYBE the Dems should care about the female half of the party--that taking back the House and the Senate doesn't do women any damned good if they  keep electign Dems who vote anti0chcoie.  I think a lot of womena re frustrated frombeating their heads agains locked doors that they really, really don't know what to do next.  That's not hte sme as complacency, but it leads to the same conclusion: if we don't get off our duffs and start making it clear that CHOCIE MATTERS, it'll be business as usal in 08, and we cannot afford that.

                    I think we're viewing the problem through different eyes: where you see compalcency, I see confusion and futration and no diea ofhow to get the point across to  Old Boys who just pat us on our heads and tell it'll be out turn soon.

                    The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake.

                    by irishwitch on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 09:55:51 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  I think you have me completely wrong (0+ / 0-)

                      I am telling you, based on my knowledge and experience and that of many others, that there is considerable complacency out there. To say that does not in any way invalidate any of your expereriences, nor does it mean that I am talking about you at all. Nor does it mean that I am talking about the many serious activists who have dedicated their lives to this work, many of whom I am proud to call my friends.

                      That said,I understand your frustration and share much of it. I have often been ignored and pooh poohed as well.  My experience, is obviously different than yours, but shares much more than you give me credit for.

                      •  Hey FC amd iw, (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        Frederick Clarkson

                        you are two sides to the same coin. I see both complacency and ignore-ance on the part of politicians and the next generation of women who have had easier access to abortions. Abortion rights are part of a feminist package that includes equal pay for equal work, childcare issues, women's health issues, domestic violence and higher education issues. DC politics ignores these issues at its peril, for without women's rights there is no homeland security.

                        "He will be irresistably be drawn to big cities, where he will back up sewers, reverse street signs and steal everybody's left shoe." Dr. Jumba Jookeeba

                        by crose on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 11:05:00 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                      •  wow (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        suicide blonde

                        Your response is totally about yourself.

        •  You got that right! I held my nose and voted for (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          irishwitch, megaera

          Casey, but his no vote for federally funded embryonic stem cell research made me ill!

          As soon as we have a majority in the senate, I will work like hell to defeat him here in PA, and replace with a real populist democrat!

          This vague, we need to change is BS, we just have to keep working harder!

          Wanted: A Dem who can win PA-18 in 2008!

          by AntKat on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 08:48:28 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Respectfully, no. (0+ / 0-)
          Casey is not the problem. And by "Casey", I mean one individual, not a class. We had to support Casey in this "specific" situation. I'm not in favor of supporting anti-choice democrats across the board, but in this instance it made sense IMO. I would rather we support so-called "pro-life" democrats in strategic situations than support some supposedly moderate or pro-choice republicans.

          I'm a man. I'm a gay man. I'm a militantly pro-choice man. And I would like to think I am a feminist.

          I think Casey is an exception. We needed him. We have a one-vote majority in the Senate. He may vote against us  on some or maybe all pro-choice issues. But lacking a viable pro-choice alternative in PA, he was our best bet.

          All I can say is I think we, collectively as democrats, are better off with Casey than Santorum. I'm holding my nose as I say this, but that's what I think. It's not a permanent state of affairs. When we have a bigger majority, then AND ONLY THEN, we can afford to mount a true, pro-choice, challenger to him in the primary. But until then, we need him.

          As a gay man, I'm a single-issue voter most of the time. I'm willing to hold my nose and vote for a democrat who is not "perfect" on my issues in specific situations. That's the best explanation that I can come up with right now.

          Blessed are the arrogant...for they shall be really impressed with themselves.

          by homogenius on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 09:34:48 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  I've heard great things about that movie. (3+ / 0-)

    Hopefully it will live up to the expectations.

    "Liberty will not descend to a people, a people must raise themselves to Liberty." -- Emma Goldman

    by Autarkh on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 08:18:05 PM PDT

  •  I'm looking forward to seeing this. (4+ / 0-)

    Well, forward in a "moving forward" way, not really eager....

    I think it sounds like it stands in the gray area.  I can think in gray.  A lot of people can't.  

    Personally, that means that the options should be available because a woman and her doctor's decisions are their understanding of their complex situation, and are none of my business.

    And that if you are opposed to abortion you should not be required to have one, and I'm fine with your choice.

  •  this issue is like the terminator (0+ / 0-)

    Sounds like an interetsing movie, but how many people will ever see an indie documentary like this?  Will it do better than Jesus Camp?  

    What liberals fail to recognize is that regime change in Iraq is not some distraction from the war on Al Qaeda. That is a bogus argument. -- Thomas Friedman

    by markymarx on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 08:34:35 PM PDT

  •  WE can no longer afford the luxury (7+ / 0-)

    of anti-=choice Dems. Pure and simple. WOmen (and men) need to start calling their reps NOW and calling naf writing their local Dem  state committes as well the national level--and start telling them we will no longer support someone who is really a moderate Republican in Dem clothing.   Give us pro-choice candidates only.  ANd we need to start working to get rid of the Bob Caseys of the Dem party.,

    And we make it clear that we will not work on campaigns or donate money to anti-choice candidates.

    The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake.

    by irishwitch on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 08:37:41 PM PDT

  •  The problem as I see it- (5+ / 0-)

    Arguments for choice are often narrow, and becuase it is viewed by pro-choice organizations as a "women's issue", allies are few and far between. A right to privacy is not enough, the RW is efficiently destroying that right.  Why not a multiple pronged defense of the issue, taking into account the many facets of the complexities of abortion?

    The right attacks from every direction.  They attack on moral grounds, they attack on legal grounds, they attack the medical community itself. They isolate women and attack feminists. There is no stone unturned when they go after something.

    To defend the right to abortion, there must be no opening to breach.  We must defend on moral grounds, must defend the medical community involved, and on legal grounds.  

    An implied right to privacy is not enough. It needs to be bolstered through additional cases. We as citizens have a right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.  We have the right to defend ourselves and our lives when threatened by a complicated pregnancy or a pregnancy that threatens our livelihood and the lives of our families.  

    As to the privacy issue.  Privacy emanates from the individual.  Without privacy, there can be no private property rights.  Start fighting on that issue, and you will see men squirm and join the defense of abortion rights.

    When public and private insurers have to start forking out money for worngful deaths on insured property through miscarriages, you will see corporations and business jump on board.  When HMOs start forking out millions for those 2,400 or so a year non-viable babies born with spina bifida and other dreadful conditions that otherwise would result in a D&E, you will see a push toward resolution.

    Women have been left dangling, and the RW very expertly cut off discourse from all interested parties by setting the argument aside from the practical issues regarding abortion.  With increased attempts to criminalize abortion, men will be effected.  They will lose loved ones, they will lose children from wanted pregancies post botched-abortion, they will have to defend their property, they will have to defend their businesses from wrongful death suits from women slipping on wet floors, they will have to support grandchildren from gold-diggers male and female, they will be forced to choose a child over their wife, lose their companions and cherished loved ones should complications arise, and they will have to endure the intrusion into their families most personal and complex occassions.

  •  Framing it Differently; resources (3+ / 0-)

    Barbara at the MahaBlog often writes about abortion, and I recall something she wrote a few months ago, where the whole discussion should really be framed not between those who are pro-life vs pro-choice, but between those who are rational people versus extremists.  See at:

    "Lake of Fire" sounds interesting, at the very least.

  •  I'm a little skeptical, (0+ / 0-)

    not because of the material, but of the director.  This is, after all, the guy who proclaimed his only other movie the Greatest Film in History and threw a very public fit when critics disagreed.  

    But the subject matter should make it worthwhile.  So far I can think of only two other films that have tried to treat abortion from somewhere in the middle (or outside, if possible) the debate: Alexander Payne's Citizen Ruth, which used it mostly to skewer fanaticism on both sides, and Todd Solondz's Palindromes (one of my favorite movies), which wonders if the debate is arbitrary to begin with.  

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 09:37:40 PM PDT

  •  Thank you, FC. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    moiv, Frederick Clarkson
    I know I sound repetitive, but I really do appreciate your extraordinary efforts on this front. Unlike you, I have given up on the church. I think there are some incredible, sincere, genuine, humble believers working for good. But I despair in the face of the massive front of evil that is taking God's name in vain.

    Thank you for holding firm, for being resolute in the fight, and for not giving up. Frankly, it's more than I can do. I'm just so discouraged by these charlatans.

    My mother was a pastor's secretary when I was born. She is a good "church lady" in the best sense of the word. She was a sunday school superintendent. She was an officer in the women's ministry. She was head of the door greeters for sunday services. But even with her baptist background she didn't believe in literalism. She didn't need that to have a deep and genuine faith.

    But I have seen these frauds and hypocrites from the inside and on a national level. I booked christian concerts in Nashville. I saw the inside of a national TV ministry. And it makes me sick to this day.

    So thank you again for keeping up the good fight.

    Blessed are the arrogant...for they shall be really impressed with themselves.

    by homogenius on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 09:44:41 PM PDT

  •  Feinstein says "We've" become complacent (0+ / 0-)

    to which I say, "what we, Senator?"

    Pols have been trimming and backpedaling for cheesy short-term political advantage, tossing women's rights under the bus, for over a decade now...and how shocked they are when there are consequences to that.  As Casey Stengel said of the '62 Mets, "Amazin'", and it begs his question from the same year, "Can't anyone here play this game?"

  •  Curious (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    suicide blonde

    What role do you play in it?

    Be good to each other. It matters.[me] / John McCain

    by AllisonInSeattle on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 11:04:35 PM PDT

  •  Is there really even a consensus? (0+ / 0-)

    That seems to be part of the reason the right wing is going after abortion.

    The anti-abortion crowd represents a small minority of the population, something like 20% or so.

    The pro-choice crowd also represents a minority, let's not overlook that.

    Last I heard, as many as 60% of the population were straddling the fence.

    And, quite frankly, I have to count myself among the 60%.

    To be clear: what the right is doing is atrocious. Even for somebody who may approve of certain restrictions on abortion, going after the weakest people instead of looking at the problem (if it even is one) is just unconscionable.

    A woman in a medical emergency needing D&E is, for me, one of the most clear-cut cases that should justify an abortion no matter where you stand. So is a minor victim of domestic abuse and incest, another common target of the right.

    With that said, though, I also have considerable beef with the pro-choice side. To be quite frank, I consider some of the reasonings self-contradictory, and intellectually inconsistent (I'll be happy to explain, but that would take this thread quite off topic).

    There is a bright side to all this. Once Bush is out of office, we might actually arrive at a more stable political solution to replace Roe v Wade.

    I don't want to see abortion outlawed. I certainly want abortions to remain available in particular to the very people the right has been targeting, such as minor rape victims and the like. And given the choice between just the two positions, I am going to support Roe v Wade any day.

    I have talked to quite a few other people who, like me, are generally liberal.

    But it strikes me that maybe the pro choice crowd could actually be much more successful, gain much more support from the general population, and ultimately be much more successful, if they recognized that there is a whole spectrum of positions, and many of them with very good reasonings.

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