Abortion documentary stirs Columbia audience

Wednesday, November 14, 2007 | 11:32 p.m. CST; updated 12:19 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Images displaying the passion and pain of people on both sides of the abortion rights debate proved no less vivid or striking when seen in black-and-white.

“Lake of Fire,” a documentary that has ignited controversy because of its graphic visual content, was shown to a Columbia audience Wednesday night as part of a film series on religion and politics hosted by MU’s Center on Religion and the Professions. The 2 1/2-hour film juxtaposed scenes of prayer vigils, shouting protesters and personal testimonies of women who have had abortions and people involved in the killings of abortion doctors.

MU freshman Lauren Hughes called the film “well-done” and “very well-balanced,” adding that it contained “a lot of emotion, a lot of depth.” Hughes said she did not feel the film’s controversial scenes were too graphic, saying the images were consistent with those used by pro-life activists.

“You are bombarded with those images anyway, because that’s what they’re giving you,” Hughes said.

In facilitated discussion after the film, reactions were mixed. One viewer labeled the film “fascinating but disgusting;” another characterized the portrayal of anti-abortion rights activists as unfair and skewed, employing only those with religious beliefs; and one self-described “pro-choice” woman in the audience said the film was “challenging.”

Debra Mason, director of the Center on Religion and the Professions, said the film effectively questioned people’s previously-held beliefs.

“I think from the discussion that occurred afterwards, it challenged people. It exposed people to other viewpoints, and I think that’s what we were hoping to see,” Mason said.

One scene, which has garnered the attention of many reviewers, shows a doctor who has just performed an abortion looking through a tray of fetal tissue, including a recognizable head, to ensure nothing has been left inside his patient.

Other graphic images in the film include a still photo of a woman dead after a motel room abortion and an arrangement of lifeless fetuses set against the story of how Norma McCorvey, better known as “Roe” in the historic Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, came to oppose the procedure.

The film ends by following a woman through the process of an abortion from the initial car ride to the operating room.

Shot over a period of 15 years, director Tony Kaye sought to balance and give voice to people on both sides of the abortion rights debate.

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