By Kaitlyn Kelley ’22
Wow. Dartmouth alumni Ricki Stern ‘87 and Annie Sundberg ’90 directed a Netflix original, Reversing Roe, that was eye-opening, influential, and empowering. [Reversing Roe was screened at Dartmouth January 25.]
Roe v. Wade was a landmark decision made by the Supreme Court in 1973 that made abortions legal across the United States. Almost 50 years later, this is no longer the case as many states now have laws restricting abortion procedures. Currently, Roe v. Wade is threatened of being overturned by the conservative majority on the Supreme Court.
Many films concerning social issues present the problem and then explain what to do about it. Reversing Roe is not a documentary explicitly explaining what should be done to fix a social problem. Instead, it is an educational film that goes before 1973 and informs the audience of the social and political history behind abortions.
Stern and Sundberg provide a chronological story of how abortion, once only a moral social issue, became a tool for a political agenda. While staying on the chronological timeline, the film continuously follows Dr. Colleen McNicholas’s life as an abortionist. McNicholas represents many abortionists around the country that are scrutinized for their work and must take many precautions. When asked to comment on the security of her work, she described having to drive different routes to work and maneuver through protestors regularly.
Having already read several New York Times articles about women’s personal abortion stories, I was expecting to see more of these in the film. Surprisingly, the film did not have big focus on anecdotes, but, instead, emphasized how the sensitive topic is used for political expediency.
The film recaps former Texas state Senator Wendy Davis’ 13-hour filibuster in 2013 to try and prevent the Texas Senate from passing its own restrictive abortion bill. Using Davis’s comments and footage from that night, the film highlights how important the issue of abortion is in the social and political world.
The Republican and Democratic parties can now be designated, respectively, as “pro-life” and “pro-choice.” Reversing Roe reveals that the Republican Party was initially one that supported women making their own decisions regarding their bodies. Former Republican presidents Ronald Regan, George W. Busch and current President Donald J. Trump are shown stating they were “pro-choice” in previous years.
These clips were displayed throughout the film, hinting at how politicians do not always actually support what they publicly discussing. The directors commented after the film that most times the politicians do not care either – they just want to further their careers. This point was driven home at the very end of the movie when it shifts to a future tone.
Although Stern and Sundberg did a good job in receiving opinions and statements from both sides of the argument (“pro-choice” and “anti-choice” as they described it), they end the documentary with a hopeless tone discussing what the future for women will be like if Roe v. Wade is indeed overturned. Including statements from abortion opponents like Troy Newman, the president of Operation Rescue, helps with the balance; but Stern and Sundberg admitted they did not relay the “pro-life” stories with the same emotional tone.
Reversing Roe was not about choosing between “pro-life” and “pro-choice,” but was instead about making the issue known. The film effectively shows both sides of the argument but, rather than winning the fight, will leave you thinking about the bigger picture.
Watch it. I’ve never been so moved by a film on Netflix.