by Sofia Dadap, FCLC ’18
On Thursday, September 29th, Fordham’s Respect for Life Club held a screening of the 2016 movie “Hush: the Documentary.” Their flyers posted around the Fordham Rose Hill campus made the following claims about the film:
Things to know:
1) This film does not take sides in the abortion debate
2) It is pro-information and unbiased and addresses some of the potential health concerns of abortion
3) Most importantly, HUSH is completely pro-woman
4) It seeks what is best for a woman’s health and well-being.
In the beginning of the film, filmmaker Punam Kumar Gill makes a point to immediately identify herself as “pro-choice” and “a product of feminism.” This claim is cited by Respect for Life as well as Gill’s fellow filmmakers (two self-proclaimed “pro-life” men), who present Gill’s statement as hard evidence that the film must be balanced. Gill’s attempt to attach to herself these nondescript, unspecific and overly simplistic labels conveys the assumption that calling herself “pro-choice” automatically protects her, her “expert” sources, and her film from accusations of bias. Even if we assume that her self-identification as a feminist has any meaningful impact on the film’s content, we can still examine the backgrounds and track records of every other person interviewed in the film providing so-called expert testimonials:
- Priscilla Coleman: Published studies on mental health and abortion that failed to distinguish between mental health outcomes that had already existed before abortions and those that occurred afterward, but still claimed to show a causal link between abortion and mental disorders. Coleman later published a meta-analysis that cited her own debunked publications to prove that there existed studies the contradicted the medical community’s consensus.
- Angela Lanfranchi: Spokesperson for the World Congress of Families, a Christian group known for its opposition to gay marriage and abortion. The group was added to the list of anti-LGBTQ hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center in February 2014. Lanfranchi cited only studies about rats in order to prove “health risks” of abortion in humans.
- David Reardon: Bought his PhD in biomedical ethics from Pacific Western University (Hawaii), an unaccredited, for-profit correspondence school that offered no courses or classroom instruction and was closed in May 2006 following a 2005 lawsuit filed by the State of Hawaii.
- Joel Brind: “Epidemiologists say that Brind has failed to establish a convincing link between abortion and breast cancer. ‘The first step in an epidemiological study is that you establish a consistent, believable association, and then you see if that association can be supported by the biological literature,’ says Eugenia Calle, director of analytic epidemiology for the American Cancer Society. ‘There is no consistent, believable association between abortion and breast cancer. So to spend our time trying to explain an association that we don’t see is a little bit odd.’”
The filmmakers choose to interview a single OB-GYN/reproductive rights expert in the film. Dr. David Grimes, former Chief of the Abortion Surveillance Branch at the CDC echoes the rest of the medical community in their rejection of the “abortion-breast cancer hypothesis.” Throughout the film, the filmmakers refer to him as an “abortionist” and refuse to speak with any other medical professionals who have a firm grasp on the decades of science that have disproved their claims.
HUSH’s primary claims about abortion and reproduction are the following: first, induced abortions increase the risk of breast cancer. Second, birth control pills cause breast cancer. Third, medical abortions raise the risk of premature birth in future pregnancy. Fourth, a reasonable precaution to take to lower one’s risk of breast cancer may be to give birth early in life. Fifth, safe and legal abortions for unwanted pregnancies lead to lasting psychological trauma for the people who choose to obtain them.
The film makes an accusation of an international conspiracy to promote a “pro-abortion political agenda,” even claiming that reputable medical organizations have both ideological motives and financial incentives to encourage women to have abortions. Some of the groups cited as conspirators are the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, World Health Organization, and American Psychological Society. The documentary hopes to convince its viewers that the thousands of scientists and medical experts researching issues surrounding abortion all desire to coerce people into having abortions. One interviewee who was fired from a clinic claimed that OB-GYNs were in fact “working on commission” and profited off of unsuspecting women by lying to them about the disproven “health risks” of abortion.
In reality, there exists no conspiracy by the international medical community or public health organizations to hide any legitimate science connecting abortions to the risk of breast cancer. All methodologically valid studies by sources with no investment in promoting a “pro-abortion agenda” have rejected a causal link or correlation between them.
The real conspiracy of reproductive health that exists is the opening of false clinics around the country calling themselves “crisis pregnancy centers” in order to dissuade people considering abortion and providing misinformation. The conspiracy is the laws in place that delay and prevent people from getting the reproductive health care that they need and want. The conspiracy is the criminalization of people seeking abortions as well as abortion providers through feticide laws designed to harm pregnant people.
The conspiracy is the legal closing of real health clinics across the country where people can obtain not solely abortions but all kinds of crucial sexual health services—resources that allow women and all people to exercise control over their lives and bodies. It is the daily harassment and violence toward clinic professionals and people seeking health services, murders of doctors, employees, and patients. The victims of this conspiracy are the people needing and wanting these services and not being able to access them legally, safely, in a timely manner, and free of stigma or pressure.
The filmmakers and producers of this film have attempted to present themselves, the pseudoscience in the film, the people interviewed, and their “expert sources” as neutral and in fact “pro-woman.” The anecdotal evidence used in the film presents a skewed, revisionist version of scientific findings in the medical community. There are no testimonials from the tens of millions of women who have benefited from safe and legal abortions or the millions of people who will ever want and need to terminate pregnancies in the future. The filmmakers choose not to consult a substantial number of pro-reproductive rights experts. They fail to accurately represent medical findings on the subject–both dealing with physical health and psychological health–and compare what they believe to be possible “health risks” of abortion to the medically proven hazards of cigarette smoking. Filmmakers have even stated their belief that the medical scientific community is deliberately holding back information about abortion because it is “politically incorrect.”
The filmmakers present speculation on a possible connection between breast cancer and abortion as if it is grounded in scientific findings. Yet we see that all legitimate organizations and professionals within the medical community, including organizations that have no political investment in promoting abortion and no ulterior motive for disproving the connection, reject this claim based on decades of scientific studies. The filmmakers believe in an international medical conspiracy and their only evidence of this is misogynistic propaganda, studies done by “pro-family” anti-LGBTQ hate groups, statistics that seemed to be invented solely for the purpose of the film, and unethically obtained secret recordings of clinic employees.
This documentary draws incorrect conclusions from largely incorrect data that has been collected in methodologically flawed ways. The film has nothing to do with promoting women’s health, as Respect for Life claims. It does nothing to help pregnant people whether or not they choose to continue or terminate their pregnancies. It does not help pregnant people make more educated decisions because it provides no information and in fact leaves out the reality that bringing a pregnancy to term can have many severe health risks that are not associated with abortions. If the filmmakers genuinely wanted to promote educated choice among pregnant people, they would not be interviewing the same people who advocate shutting down reproductive health clinics entirely.
The filmmakers, including the “pro-choice” and “pro-information” Gill all choose not to consider any outside factors in the changing rates of breast cancer while lumping together “North American women” to create a flawed statistic about regional breast cancer rates. They should not be attempting to scare young people out of taking birth control and making their own choices for their own safety and wellbeing. The filmmakers believe that “abortions cause psychological damage,” never once considering that what may be traumatizing is in fact the circumstances of pregnancy and not the procedure of abortion—provided that they are safe, legal, affordable, readily available, destigmatized, and free of disproven, psychologically manipulative & state mandated pseudoscientific disclaimers.
Furthermore, the filmmakers intercut scenes of stock footage of Chinese and Indian people with offensive commentary accusing Asian women of committing “gendercide.”
Their disingenuous claims serve to wrongly accuse Asian women of disproportionately seeking sex-selective abortion. By framing their racism as moral concern, they are directly asserting that Asian people are more misogynistic than white Americans, erasing home-grown American sexism and positing regressive gender politics as something that is specifically Asian. Respect for Life may attempt to justify these racist scenes by citing Gill’s identity as an Indian woman. This does nothing to prove that the film’s accusations of Asian people’s inclination toward sex-selective abortion is not based in racism. Gill’s identity does not prevent the film from perpetuating a racist, oppressive and violent narrative about Asian and Asian-American women that is also egregiously false:
The evidence that the filmmakers and interviewees use are at best vague and collected in methodologically flawed ways and at worst completely made up. They are people with little to no credentials (including those with self-created titles and false degrees) citing studies that have been disproven, pushing racist claims and suggesting that people have babies as early as possible in order to reduce their risk of breast cancer. It is irresponsible on the part of all people who facilitated this film screening, including the administrators who approved it and the Public Safety officers who attempted to hinder the officially sanctioned protest by Women’s Empowerment. It is a disservice to the Fordham community that this film was presented to students under a false pretense of neutrality. The screening speaks to a larger unwillingness by Fordham’s administration to treat pregnant students and faculty with respect and dignity–whether or not they choose to bring their pregnancies to term.