When it comes to Christians engaging the culture through the wide array of artistic expressions, not all forms are equal. Christian media, on a whole, possesses a poor resume in the realms of music and film. This documentary, however, is a noteworthy exception. Babies Are Still Murdered Here (hereafter referred to by their hashtag, #BAMH2), directed, filmed and edited by Marcus Pittman, is a needed installment to call reform and repentance, and in some places, overthrow of the pro-life movement.
BAMH2 is the second film bearing a similar name coming after the first Babies Are Murdered Here, released on the anniversary of Roe v Wade, January 22nd 2014. The purpose of the first film was simple and straightforward: babies are murdered at abortion mills. The subtext of the title is also straightforward: abortion is not a victimless crime. Both the abortionist, the mother and father are guilty of bloodshed. The backdrop of the first film provides the context for this current installment. As describes in the film by Pastor Jeff Durbin, the intervening time between the two films was filled with surprising pushback to the first BAMH, notably, calling abortion the “m-word.” The pro-life movement as a whole, was (and still is) unreceptive to calling abortion murder and women who have abortions, murderers. It was during the intervening time that the End Abortion Now Facebook page began releasing a slow and steady trickle of footage from abortion clinics that show the intense barrage of women seeking abortions apathetic of the abortion they were about to have. In BAMH2, the gathered footage of pro-life leaders, local and national are coupled with the interviews of multiple pastors, theologians and abolitionists that make what BAMH2, is.
The release date of the first film was obviously intentional. The release day of this one, is similarly deliberate. October 31st marks Halloween for most Americans, but it is also the recognized date of the Reformation’s Anniversary. 502 years prior, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg, igniting the powder keg of the Reformation. Half a millennial later, this film steeps itself in that tradition reminding the viewer of a key tenet of the Reformation. That heartbeat is that it shouldn’t stop, but should always be reforming. I found the film to be laced with this spirit of semper reformanda. The unfinished work of the Reformation in the arena of the pro-life movement is detailed in the film. For the sake of this review, I want to focus on the key grievances BAMH2 unpacks.
1. It’s About the Gospel
BAMH2 is quick to point the heart of the issue when it comes to the Pro-life movement at large. The first is this, the gospel. Or stated differently, the lack of the gospel-message. Pro-life movements, as described in the film, rest on the common-cause that invested groups take to being pro-life. These strange bedfellows of the pro-life movement join Roman Catholics, Evangelicals, Jews, atheists, students, and a laundry list of others into a peculiar alliance. What is it that’s lost in this association? As BAMH2 points out, it’s the gospel. When everyone is granted an equal stake, the unequal message of a gospel that exalts Christ specifically seems to mute the Lordship of Christ. BAMH2, rifting on this note reminds me of something A.W. Tozer said, “if he is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all.” BAMH2 is quick to point out that a neutered gospel is not a gospel that has any power to end abortion.
2. Who is the victim of an abortion?
The idea of neutrality woven into ecumenicism has silenced the gospel. The film demonstrates how this line or reasoning has trickled down into the pro-life movement through ascribing to unbiblical standards of victimhood. An interview with George Grant aptly describes the lack of biblical foundations with this word: Evade. Because aligning oneself with those who do not share the same gospel results in silencing their standards, namely, the Word of the living God, the pro-life movement as a whole has evaded what is clearly spoken in the bible about the victims of a crime. The tone and tenor pro-life movement trades these standards for is softer and lays the fault of abortion at the feet of the abortion doctor, but not also to the woman who sought and paid for the crime of abortion. I anticipate this will be the greatest place of disagreement that people will have with the film. BAMH2, however, is unabashed in crying for the consistency of the logic behind it. Without making the argument emotionally, they lay it out plainly as it is woven throughout the film. I’ve inferred it as this:
Premise 1: The pre-born baby is human from the moment of conception
Premise 2: God’s law forbids murdering humans
Premise 3: Abortion ends the life of a pre-born human
Conclusion: Abortion is murder and contrary to God’s law
The logic seems straightforward and the premises and the conclusion are rooted in the only authoritative and inspired text. What’s the problem? As the films describes, the pro-life movement doesn’t want this. They don’t want to call abortion murder and they don’t want to call women who have had an abortion, murderers. The film doesn’t fully detail as to why this is a principle of pro-life movement. My interpretation is that we are to deduce it has to do with the softened rhetoric that happens as a result of silencing the gospel and making allies that don’t share that core conviction about biblical standards. I think this is probably the case. The general atmosphere in the pro-life movement is an attitude to back down on language that is “too hard” or “unpalatable.” I don’t just draw that conclusion from this film, alone, but from my experience working for a pro-life organization through and after my years in seminary. This isn’t just a common thread, it’s replete in the pro-life culture.
3. Incremental and Naive Legislation
Part and parcel of the pro-life movement has been the beating of the war-drums to the beat of the pre-born’s heart. In newspaper headlines, these tend to excite someone who is pro-life. Who wouldn’t want to end abortion once a heartbeat can be detected? It’s a great idea. Perhaps one of the most uncomfortable and upsetting parts of the film is where this was shown to have its flaws. Ultra-sound tech, Sarah Cleveland, who testified before House Health Committee in Ohio, demonstrates the beauty of the ultra-sound. It can show the crossed-legs, folded arms, clasping hands, moving jaw and the steady beat of a tiny heart of a pre-born baby. But what’s the problem? It has nothing to do with the ultra-sound, and everything to do with the tech who operates it. When a heart-beat bill is passed, who is it that will evaluate whether a heartbeat is detected? The ultrasound tech. And if they are at abortion clinic? Yep, you can see the problem. The partner in the criminal activity of an abortion can skillfully manipulate the machine so they don’t have a picture of a baby. What heartbeat? There’s nothing here to see.
This shouldn’t be a surprise to us. Apologist Sye Ten Bruggencate’s appearance in the film reminds us that this is the logical result our taking our doctrine of sin, seriously. If the person is actively suppressing the truth of God, they will tamper with any evidence contrary to their precommitment (my paraphrase). Thus, if they have a precommitment to not find a heart, they won’t. If they have a precommitment to wanting to kill the baby, it doesn’t matter if the heartbeat bill was passed. More could have been said at this point in the film. In some (perhaps most?) cases, the tech isn’t even required by law to show the ultrasound screen to the woman potentially seeking an abortion. This has been the assumption and hope of the pro-life movement, but sadly, the legislation has its problems imbedded within it. We shouldn’t be shocked that an ultra-sound tech at abortion facility will deliberately operate the machine to meet their end than will the tech at a crisis pregnancy center or simply move the screen away from the mother’s view.
4. Federal Sovereignty
The film makes a sobering point about the strategy of the pro-life movement. Everyone knows this plan: elect a pro-life president, he will appoint pro-life judges and once a case that can challenge Roe v. Wade is brought before them? Bam! We will have an overturn of the Roe v. Wade and end abortion in America in a decade or two. Has this not been what we’ve been trying the last several decades? What’s the problem? We’ve tried that. An interview with Les Riley, founder of Personhood Mississippi points out this flawed and tried idea. In 1992, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, there were eight (of nine) Republican Supreme Court justices presiding over a case that challenge Roe. V. Wade. The result? They upheld Roe the previous decision of the court.
Given this flawed strategy, the film offers a solution: return to localism and resist federal laws that are unconstitutional. Americans are enamored with who the President is and as the interview portion with Voddie Baucham points out, we don’t even know who our local elected officials are. This segment struck me as one of the most important points that could be made. Churches can have a powerful influence in the public square by taking a stand in their local city council. Pastor Jon Speed, who plays a central role in the first BAMH, makes a reappearance at this juncture. When New York passed sweeping pro-abortion laws, he closed his book store for a day of mourning which gained the attention of others nationally. The message of the film is clear at this point: take a stand where you are.
Rusty & Jeremiah Thomas
The hardest part of the film for me to watch was Pastor Rusty Thomas tell the story of his late son, Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a young man who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of bone cancer which eventually took his life. Before he died, though, through the connection they made with the Make a Wish Foundation, he was able to make his dying wish: to speak with Governor Greg Abbot of Texas and plead with him to end abortion in the state. The story of Jeremiah is woven into the film in a beautiful way. It serves to show the importance of, not only standing on biblical convictions, but that young people can (and should) boldly appeal to God’s ministers of the government to carry out their duty to protect the innocent and punish evil. At his point of the documentary, I closed my office door, drew my blinds and wept watching Rusty tell the story of his beloved son. I hope more will watch the film and be emboldened by the fragility of life, the fleeting time we have, and that no amount of suffering can be wasted, especially when taking up the cause of rescuing the innocent from slaughter.
Evaluation and Some Talking Points
As I take it, BAMH2 is a call for consistency. It’s a call for Christians who profess that Jesus is Lord to take him at his Word and appeal to biblical standards. This cry for consistency has drastic but needed changes to bring to our understanding of murder, victimhood, penology, resisting unjust laws and living in our respective contexts. I found that it was appropriate that this film was released on Reformation Day as it represents the courageous strides of an unfinished reformation.
Though a thorough discussion of victimhood would have demanded more time than could have been allotted, I think there is more to be said than the film did. Generally speaking, what is being said by the pro-life movement is, “women are victims” and what BAMH2 is saying is “women who have an abortion are murderers.” There’s more to be explored, here. BAMH has shattered the perception that the only kind of woman seeking an abortion is a victim who is scared and innocent. My estimate is that the End Abortion Now movement probably has thousands of hours of footage that proves that many women are vile, angry, resentful and apathetically seeking to kill their baby legally. My own experience outside of multiple clinics, however, is that there is a wider array of women in a wide array of circumstances seeking abortions. My note of caution is to avoid painting a narrative that is overly monolithic. We need to talk about the idea that a woman can be both a victim and a murderer. Is it possible that a girl can be near forcibly taken to a clinic under coercion to have an abortion? I’ve seen this happen at least once. An underage girl was drug in a clinic by her mother to have an abortion at the Hope Clinic in Granite City, Illinois. Is she also a murderer? I’m not sure we could use the same label. That’s a discussion we need to have. I’ve also interacted with women who were coldly logical about the killing of their children. I’ve had conversations with others outside the same clinic that were a combination of scared and naïve about what was going to happen. Not everyone goes to the clinic with the same story, background or context. I don’t think this takes away from the point BAMH2 has made, though.
On a whole, Babies Are Still Murdered Here is aggressively upsetting the upper card of the pro-life movement, and it deserves to be upset. Our strategies have failed. Pro-life leaders have misled and even thwarted efforts to end abortion when it was within grasp. We have been tightening the screws on abortion for over forty years and still have it. We should not be satisfied with anything less than total abolishment of abortion in America. This film is densely packed (a full 1:42 minutes) and this review merely scratches the surface. More could be said for the work of John Barros outside the mills and multiple clips of the late R.C. Sproul, but people will just have to see it for themselves. Pittman’s latest installment bears the marks of a seasoned film maker who is only getting started. I look forward to seeing more of his work at Apologia Studios in the future. Though I suspect this film will be dismissed by leaders in pro-life organizations, it is time for them to examine their foundations and become consistent with the truth. Semper Reformanda.