Filmmaker's Unprecedented Look at Abortion Debate

Tony Kaye's new film, "Lake of Fire," thrusts abortion debate in your face.

Oct. 12, 2007 — -- Meet Stacey, a 28-year-old woman who is about to have an abortion. Watch as she fills out preliminary paperwork at the doctor's office, answers questions such as "Are you definite about your decision?" and later watch while doctors actually perform the procedure, in excruciating detail.

Tony Kaye's latest documentary, "Lake of Fire," takes cameras behind the doors of abortion clinics and inside the homes of anti-abortion activists in an effort to document the heated debate over abortion in the U.S.

The movie's raw, unpleasant moments are uncomfortable to watch, whether you're anti-abortion or pro-choice. You can't even escape the graphic nature of the film by sinking into your seat and covering your eyes. Some of the most disturbing parts of the documentary are actually sounds – from the humming and sucking of the machine in the procedure room to the squeals and moans of the women on the table.

And, despite having spent 15 years and millions of his own dollars producing the documentary, which is in limited release, Kaye admitted that even he is still not certain which side he agrees with.

"I'm confused about the whole thing," Kaye told "If you gave me a piece of paper with a pro-life and a pro-choice box, without thought I'd pick the pro-choice box. I think a woman should be able to choose exactly what she does with her [body]. But I still think there's a person being killed, and that's not good."

Audience members' reactions were equally mixed. Many told that they thought the film was a balanced look at the issue, while others insisted it was largely "anti-abortionist" and some even said it was "very liberal."

More than a few viewers said they had to look away during the movie, which one person called "very difficult to watch."

One scene shows a doctor counting the body parts of a just-aborted fetus to ensure no tissue remains inside the woman and another displays a photograph of a bloodied woman who died after performing an abortion on herself using a wire hanger.

The film's graphic nature, Kaye told, was necessary to showing both sides of the argument.

"That's what an abortion is, and it's a film about abortion," said Kaye, who said he found filming the second-term abortion the most difficult. "'Lake of Fire' is a cinematic experience – it's a brutal one, but it's a cinematic experience."

Despite Kaye's interviews with anti-abortion activists like Randall Terry, who founded Operation Rescue, a movement that organizes protests outside abortion clinics, as well as high-profile abortion-rights professors, activists told that finding a common ground is unlikely.

Abortion Debate Rages On

"This was not a balanced portrayal of the issue," said Carol King, former National Organization for Women board member and abortion-rights activist, who has seen the documentary. "One of the things that has upset me more than anything else is the [comparison] of the anti-choice extremists to pro-choice activists. I have never encouraged in any way to kill people with whom I disagree."

The killing of abortion doctors by anti-abortion advocates — to which King is referring — is documented throughout the film, focusing largely on the 1993 killing of abortion doctor David Gunn.

Gunn was fatally shot on his way into a Florida abortion clinic by Michael Griffin, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Kaye's film documented convicted murderers like Griffin who, despite the court rulings, still believe it was hypocritical to be punished for what they consider "heroic" action that prevents the killing of babies.

King added that she thought Kaye used graphic images for "superficial purposes" and "shock value." The number of activists on either side of the abortion debate has remained the same over more than 30 years, according to King, who said she didn't think this movie was going to change that.

The images, which King told left her "angered" and "insulted," are commonly used by anti-abortion activists during protests.

"It's important for people to know what an abortion is," said Dr. Wanda Franz, the president of the National Right to Life Committee, who has not yet seen "Lake of Fire." "These graphic photos remind people that every abortion kills a living human and so for that reason, we think it's important for people to know the truth about abortion. Seeing it in a film like this is important for educational purposes."

When asked whether she thought extremist anti-abortion activists like the ones depicted in Kaye's film barricading doors of abortion clinics reflected poorly upon the anti-abortion movement, Franz said that sometimes such protests are useful to promote their cause.

"There are times that it's very helpful when [the protest] is in conjunction with political efforts," said Franz. "We're not represented in the movie and I think what you see in the film does not reflect our methods. We do other things — it's important to do education, legislation and political action."

King, who said she has witnessed several abortions and spent time as a "operation rescuer" whose job it was to ensure women were able to enter clinics safely, said that the methods used by anti-abortion groups have been discussed at length by abortion-rights organizations that have never been able to justify the use of images as graphic as the ones shown in Kaye's film.

"We choose not to play into that. We would like people to respect women and women's choices and women's bodies and it seems exploitive to us," said King. "But the anti-choice movement has never thought about whether their exploitation is right or moral."

Kaye, who told that one of his former girlfriends had an abortion, said that he welcomes criticism of his film.

"Any criticism that's been thrown out is valid," said Kaye, who added he wasn't expecting his film to change people's minds on abortion. "I didn't make it to make money -- I made it to find out about this issue."

In the final moments of Kaye's documentary, the cameras follow Stacey just after she's finished the procedure and walks into the clinic's waiting room.

"I know I made the right decision, but it's not easy," said Stacey, who promptly bursts into tears.

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