Partnering with Citizens United, former presidential contender and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is promoting “fetal personhood” by narrating Gift of Life, a film that promotes legislative action meant to overturn the landmark abortion rights act Roe v. Wade. The board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health argues that the film demonstrates a “disconnect” between the patients and doctors depicted in the film.
The movie, which premiered last week in Des Moines, promotes a strategy of pursuing federal legislation that would grant civil rights to fetuses, on the grounds that their equal protection rights are protected by the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, an idea championed by current presidential contender Newt Gingrich.
In a recent article, two physicians argue that the film is problematic because, in medicine, physicians must learn to separate their personal feelings from those of their patients.
Dr. Anthony Levatino, interviewed at length in the film, is an OB/GYN who formerly performed abortions. Levatino and his wife had fertility problems and were seeking to adopt a child; at one point he describes his regret as he was performing a first trimester abortion while he and his wife were undertaking that process. They eventually adopted a child who was later tragically killed after being hit by a car. Levatino describes a second trimester abortion he performed after the death of his daughter, after which he concludes about his patient, “I didn’t see her wonderful right to choose and I didn’t see what a great doctor I was helping her with her problem pregnancy.”
The Gift of Life draws on Levatino’s personal tragedy to portray his decision to stop performing abortions as a policy answer, rather than an individual, understandable response to grief. Dr. Daniel Grossman, senior associate at Ibis Reproductive Health, told me, “It is true that abortion providers often have conflicting feelings about the work we do.” But, he went on, “most of us have those feelings and are able to separate our personal feelings from those of our patients and what they need and want to do with their current pregnancy.”
Dr. Douglas Laube, Board Chair of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, echoed this view, describing Levatino’s reaction as “normal” given his circumstances, but noting that his patient’s reaction was not discussed. “I see it as a disconnect,” said Laube. “It does not connect logically with a reason not to support the right to choose. It’s his feelings versus her right to choose.”
Laube goes on to argue that the film peddles several abortion falsehoods, such as a claim that all fetuses feel pain and that abortion providers attempt to maximize the number of abortion procedures they perform, in order to profit from them:
The anti-choice activist Carol Everett claims she once worked for an abortion provider that aimed to perform three to five abortions on 13-18 year old girls so they would be accustomed to using abortion as a birth control method into adulthood. Dr. Laube called these claims “pure nonsense,” “pure fiction,” and “really a stretch.” He noted that abortion comprises 3-5% of Planned Parenthood’s budget, and that abortion is “certainly not a money-maker. At best, it’s a break-even.”
The fetal personhood movement, which aims to define life from the moment of conception, has swept the country in recent years. Personhood initiatives have cropped up in many states — most notably in Mississippi, where a personhood amendment was recently rejected by voters despite support from state policy-makers. In Florida, personhood organizers have told The Florida Independent that they are currently working toward placing an amendment on the state’s 2014 ballot.
In an interview conducted last month, Laube told the Independent that attempts to define human life from the moment of conception “flies in the face of common sense” and could have “wide-reaching impact to access to women’s health: cancer treatment, fertility treatment, birth control.”