Words of Choice doesn’t literally hit readers upside the head to shake some sense into them, but it comes close. Based on Cindy Cooper’s long-running play of the same name, the film demonstrates why women need abortion and other reproductive options. Its goal is clearly agitational, urging stepped-up pro-choice activism.
The beautifully acted production presents 14 fast-moving, well-written skits that focus on a wide range of issues, from vicious attacks against reproductive health centers, to a pregnant teenager’s angst over putting her baby up for adoption. Pre-Roe history is also skillfully woven in—from the days of back alley secrecy, slimy providers, and botched surgeries, to the feminist alternative provided by Chicago’s Jane collective.
The film opens with an excerpt from Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. It then jumps to the contemporary anti-choice movement and zeroes in on the human impact of anti-abortion legislation.
One of the most affecting pieces is “A Father’s Story.” In it, Thomasina Clarke portrays a low-income man whose teenaged daughter was raped following a Fourth of July celebration at the Washington Monument. “As my daughter entered a side street,” Clarke begins, “three men emerged and before my daughter could utter a cry, she was blindfolded, gagged, tied up, and taken to a house where she was kept all night long.”
During her captivity, the teenager was repeatedly violated. The next day, she was taken back to the Monument and left to find her way home. “In a short period of time,” Clarke continues, “my daughter knew she was pregnant. I want to ask Congressman Hyde what he would have done if he had been the father of that girl.” Illinois Congressperson Henry Hyde is responsible for introducing the Amendment that, since 1977, has barred Medicaid from paying for the abortions of most poor women.
Also poignant, “What I Said To Congress,” draws upon the testimony of a woman who had a late term, so-called “partial birth” abortion. “Seven years ago I thought I had a perfect pregnancy,” she says. But after tests revealed that the fetus had a fatal chromosomal disorder, with fluid in his brain, a malformed heart and other untreatable disabilities, she chose to have an abortion. Her dilemma, of course, failed to sway Congress to allow this type of late-term surgery, but the power of her words is undeniable.
But lest you think Words of Choice is unbearably heavy, rest assured that it is not. “SCHIPS,” for one, makes fun of former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, and his consistent elevation of fetal life. “Why does a fetus make a better patient that a pregnant women,” he asks? “Among other things, a fetus never asks if it can bring cameras, video recorders or partners into the delivery room.”
Similarly, “You’re On Your Own” uses hip-hop to lampoon the anti-abortion movement’s reverence for pre-born life while ignoring the kids and adults languishing around them:
We’ll stand with you till you’re born
After that you stand alone
The only perfect people are the
unborn and the dead
You got a right to life, but after that, I’m afraid you’re on your own
Another skit, “Taco Bell Launch,” is based on an article that originally ran in the Onion. It’s a hilarious monologue about the Morning After Burrito. Eaten within 36 hours of unprotected intercourse, the spoof presents a $1.99 treat that has consumers singing its praises.
Words of Choice also addresses anti-abortion violence (“To Hell and Back”), the meaning of Roe in everyday life (“My Good Friend Roe”), and the feelings of sadness and guilt that some women experience after terminating a pregnancy (“Kathy/ Parallel Lives”). It’s a potent mix.
Never glib or strident, the film offers a cogent and unapologetic defense of reproductive freedom. While adults will be both moved and angered by Words of Choice, its message is also sure to resonate with high school and college students. A teaching guide accompanies the DVD, making it an excellent educational tool and resource.
Eleanor J. Bader is the co-author of Targets of Hatred: Anti-Abortion Terrorism (St. Martin’s Press, 2001) and a contributor to In These Times, Library Journal, the NY Law Journal and the Progressive.