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Motherhood by Choice, Not Chance

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Dorothy Fadiman has directed and narrated a riveting short documentary about legislative threats to abortion and what it’s like for women to be without access to comprehensive reproductive health services. “Motherhood by Choice” opens with Fadiman recounting her own illegal, back-alley, pre-Roe v. Wade abortion. Blindfolded and taken to an unknown location, the filmmaker describes the horrific surgery and then reminds viewers that “when abortion was illegal thousands of women died.” Nurses who worked in hospitals and treated women suffering from infections, as well as a doctor who performed illegal procedures and a minister who counseled women through the underground Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, offer their accounts of these bad old days.

But it’s when the film moves into the present and addresses current threats—the 350 laws restricting reproductive rights that have been imposed in the U.S. in the past decade—that it becomes especially powerful. Zeroing in on parental notification, the curtailment of Medicaid funding, and restrictions on when an abortion can take place, “Motherhood by Choice” describes the risks that women continue to take in order to end unwanted pregnancies. A teen counselor speaks of women using bleach douches and knitting needles—today—and details the obvious danger such desperate actions pose.

And lest one think these measures are rare, an Alabama clinician reminds us that “Restrictions today drive some women to illegal providers or home remedies. There is still a lot of that going on in Alabama.”

Fadiman concurs. “The desperation level is already here for young women and poor women.” While the film will likely inspire and activate everyone who sees it, it also provides would-be organizers with a number of tools to help them get started. A roster of resources, including pro-choice websites and an information booklet, are included.