“Lake of Fire” is a documentary by Tony Kaye about the radical anti-choice movement. He looks at the history of violence against abortion providers and provides a very frightening view of the domestic terrorists who threaten women’s access to reproductive health care.
The film was released in 2006 and opens with a focus on the passage of a South Dakota law that outlawed abortion. HB 1215 was signed into law by South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds in March of 2006. The legislation prohibits abortion under any circumstance, including rape and incest. The only exception is to protect the life of the mother. The health of the mother is not considered in the exception process. The intent of the bill’s sponsors was to have the law questioned before the Supreme Court. They were hoping that George Bush would have had a third justice nominated to the Supreme Court so that the case would have overturned Roe v. Wade.
South Dakota’s anti-abortion law did not pass in a vacuum. “Lake of Fire” traces the emergence of the militant anti-abortion movement in the US, beginning with a 1993 anti-choice demonstration on the National Mall in Washington, DC that has become an annual event each year on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. White crosses are staked into the lawn. I assume the protesters intend these crosses to represent the babies that are killed each year by abortion. The organizers of the protest say that this should be “a daily event,” and that they are honoring “God’s laws.”
Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, is featured prominently in the film. Operation Rescue is one of the most militant anti-choice groups in the nation. His group was founded in 1986, and they have openly advocated violence towards abortion providers. In March of 1989 there was a major shift in the organization, and the movement went from volunteers to paid protesters. Terry’s group has even gone as far as buying property near abortion clinics in order to stalk the service providers and clinic escorts who work there. “Lake of Fire” was filmed well before the assassination of Dr. George Tiller, but the film highlights the 1993 assassination attempt on Tiller’s life, as well as the 3 doctors who were murdered in 1993. Randall Terry and Operation Rescue were clearly implicated in that event, despite Terry’s attempts to distance himself from Dr. Tiller’s murder earlier this month.
“Lake of Fire” includes an interview with Frances Kissling, the founder of Catholics for Free Choice. Kissling explains that the anti-choice movement really got its start right after the Roe v. Wade decision happened. The Catholic church reorganized parish boundaries by Congressional districts, and each parish established its own “pro-life committee” in order to make abortion illegal again. These committees are financed by the church’s bishops. Kissling says that languaging matters. When people hear that abortion is murder every week from the pulpit, they begin to believe that the murder of abortion doctors is justified. Therefore, the Catholic church is responsible for the politicization of priests and the role of religion in the anti-choice movement.
This film has many interesting points about the anti-choice movement, but I had some stylistic problems with the film that made it difficult to watch. First of all, it’s in black and white, and there is a lot of cheesy, dramatic music in the film. I found it all a little pretentious, as if director Tony Kaye thought that he was making an artistic indy film instead of a documentary. Secondly, there are hardly any women interviewed in the movie. Kaye predominantly interviewed male talking heads. It was all more than just a little ironic. However, if you can get over these flaws, the information itself qualifies the movie for our Watch List. So put is on your Netflix que, but remember to take it in small doses.