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‘Reversing Roe’ Explores the Politicization of Abortion

Reversing Roe looks at all viewpoints in the abortion debate and the history of the politicization of the abortion and anti-abortion movements.

Recent hearings in the Supreme Court have hinted at the possibility of more government regulation on abortion, making Netflix’s documentary Reversing Roe, even more timely as it traces the nearly 50 years since the historic ruling that protected the practice under the United States Constitution.

Directors Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern begin several years before Roe vs. Wade in 1973, when abortion was illegal—addressing the economic disparity linked to dangerous practices for women who wanted to terminate pregnancy.

Although the film has been viewed as coming from a pro-abortion-rights perspective, it gives voice to other points of view too. It’s also focused on tracing the history of its politicization, rather than taking a moral stance.

Indeed, it notes in the film that Republicans embraced the concept of individual liberty and believed that the decision to terminate a pregnancy was ultimately between a woman and her doctor.

Reversing Roe Explores the Politicization of Abortion

In 1967, as the governor of California, Ronald Reagan had signed a bill allowing abortion under certain circumstances. Also, George H. W. Bush is seen in a clip from 1980 opposing the idea of a constitutional amendment banning abortion.

Additionally, it points out that four Nixon appointees were part of the court that made the Roe v. Wade decision.

“Abortion was not a partisan issue at that time,” says Linda Greenhouse, a longtime Supreme Court writer for The New York Times. “It was a medical problem. It was a social problem.”

That changed, however, as Roe became a rallying cry for evangelicals, who became increasingly pivotal to the electoral fortunes of GOP candidates, starting with Ronald Reagan in 1980.

In Texas today, state representative Donna Howard notes in the movie that a candidate’s stance on abortion has become a critical point of campaigns for office—overseeing other areas such as finance or agriculture.

Other interviews included in the film are with Sarah Weddington, of Roe v. Wade, who represented Jane Roe, a plaintiff who sought an abortion in Texas. Kathryn Kolbert also appears; she challenged obstacles to abortion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992.

On the other side of the debate, Troy Newman of Operation Rescue is seen pointing to his “trophy wall” of photographs of abortion clinics he said his organization had shut down.

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council says in the film that Donald Trump’s words in the third presidential debate — in which he made the quickly debunked claim that current abortion laws allowed doctors to “rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month, on the final day”— helped convince evangelical voters to vote for him.

Reversing Roe premiered on Netflix on September 13. Running time is 90 minutes.


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