STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

'Reversing Roe' explores contentious history of Roe v. Wade

This month's Supreme Court confirmation hearings have highlighted deeply held fears that abortion rights are...

Posted: Sep 12, 2018 2:54 AM
Updated: Sep 12, 2018 2:54 AM

This month's Supreme Court confirmation hearings have highlighted deeply held fears that abortion rights are in danger. Netflix's beyond-timely documentary "Reversing Roe," about the decision at the heart of that controversy, feels flummoxed in its attempt to soberly condense a half-century of heated politics surrounding the ruling into a 90-some-odd minute film.

The tale of Roe v. Wade -- the 1973 Texas case -- actually works best here as a quick history lesson, illustrating how the issue of abortion became so heavily politicized. Directors Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern begin several years before Roe, when abortion was illegal but wealthy women were generally able to secure "therapeutic" procedures, while less privileged classes were forced to pursue more dangerous options.

Abortion

Abortion rights

Health and medical

Medical treatments and procedures

Sexual and reproductive health

Societal issues

Society

As the film notes, at the time Republicans embraced the concept of individual liberty, and largely echoed the argument that the decision to terminate a pregnancy was one best left to a woman and her doctor. That changed, however, as Roe became a rallying cry for evangelicals, who in turn became increasingly pivotal to the electoral fortunes of GOP candidates, starting with Ronald Reagan in 1980.

The result has been a decades-long campaign to overturn Roe, which conservative voices featured within the film readily acknowledge. Linda Greenhouse, an abortion historian who covered the Supreme Court for the New York Times, points out, "It took years of cultivation by very smart Republican strategists" to establish the current state of play, from coining "partial-birth abortion" (a political term, it's noted, not a medical one) to maneuvering the Republican Party -- and politicians like George H.W. Bush -- to shift in its direction.

"If you're running in Texas as a Republican, you have to claim to agree with pro-life principles," says John Seago of Texas Right to Life.

While those ambitions have been thwarted in the inability as yet to overturn Roe, they have been successful both in tilting the Supreme Court's composition and gradually chipping away at abortion rights at the state level across the country.

Where "Reversing Roe" stumbles, at times, is in the details, as it tackles the issue from a variety of angles -- both on the macro and micro level, which includes Dr. Colleen McNicholas, an abortion provider whose clinic is perpetually under siege.

The course of that narrative, however, provides short shrift to or omits elements that seemingly deserve more attention. Off hand, those include legal quibbles about Justice Harry Blackmun's original opinion, the role conservative media has played in ratcheting up the rhetoric in the context of incidents like the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller, and examples of hypocrisy on the part of certain politicians featured, among them Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who was forced to resign.

To their credit, the filmmakers incorporate an array of voices on both sides of the issue, taking their timeline practically to the eve of the Brett Kavanaugh nomination that's currently roiling the debate.

"Reversing Roe" wasn't destined to please everybody, simply based on the divisive nature of the subject matter. There's also something to be said for bringing perspective to the conversation and trying to turn down the temperature -- not an easy thing to do when the term "baby killer" is being tossed around.

Yet while the documentary sheds welcome light on Roe's history -- on the road that brought us to this crucial juncture --the filmmakers, perhaps inevitably, bypassed some key stops and turns along the way.

"Reversing Roe" premieres Sept. 13 on Netflix.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 500286

Reported Deaths: 9968
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34281537
DeSoto32039402
Hinds31911626
Jackson24466379
Rankin21971390
Lee15501235
Madison14566279
Jones13825242
Forrest13438250
Lauderdale11984316
Lowndes11003188
Lamar10510135
Pearl River9494237
Lafayette8542139
Hancock7727126
Washington7418157
Oktibbeha7139131
Monroe6765176
Warren6679176
Pontotoc6655102
Neshoba6625206
Panola6511131
Marshall6460134
Bolivar6302148
Union601294
Pike5815152
Alcorn5662101
Lincoln5431134
George496579
Scott472198
Tippah468381
Prentiss466581
Leflore4654144
Itawamba4628105
Adams4584119
Tate4579109
Copiah447792
Simpson4440116
Yazoo443687
Wayne439172
Covington428694
Sunflower4235105
Marion4225107
Coahoma4154104
Leake408088
Newton381679
Grenada3703108
Stone359764
Tishomingo359492
Attala331089
Jasper329565
Winston314091
Clay307676
Chickasaw299467
Clarke292194
Calhoun278945
Holmes267887
Smith263350
Yalobusha233347
Tallahatchie226851
Walthall218763
Greene218248
Lawrence212440
Perry205256
Amite204755
Webster202646
Noxubee186440
Montgomery179456
Jefferson Davis171442
Carroll168738
Tunica159439
Benton148438
Kemper141941
Choctaw133326
Claiborne132237
Humphreys129238
Franklin119428
Quitman106428
Wilkinson104839
Jefferson94434
Sharkey64020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 815989

Reported Deaths: 15311
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1144621915
Mobile723961330
Madison52114694
Shelby37488348
Baldwin37167547
Tuscaloosa35013606
Montgomery34031734
Lee23177245
Calhoun22190476
Morgan20719376
Etowah19774497
Marshall18277302
Houston17333411
St. Clair15967339
Cullman15365292
Limestone15270198
Elmore15126284
Lauderdale14205294
Talladega13783276
DeKalb12598260
Walker11142369
Blount10132175
Autauga9910146
Jackson9819182
Coffee9190191
Dale8874185
Colbert8803201
Tallapoosa7063198
Escambia6755130
Covington6695184
Chilton6608161
Russell626659
Franklin5947105
Chambers5563142
Marion4966126
Dallas4902200
Clarke474083
Pike4722105
Geneva4567126
Winston4493103
Lawrence4286117
Bibb423686
Barbour356576
Marengo337489
Monroe330863
Randolph328263
Butler325396
Pickens314182
Henry311865
Hale310688
Cherokee301660
Fayette291379
Washington251151
Cleburne247160
Crenshaw244075
Clay241268
Macon231763
Lamar219547
Conecuh185753
Coosa179439
Lowndes174464
Wilcox167839
Bullock151644
Perry138440
Sumter132038
Greene126244
Choctaw87827
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Cloudy
70° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 70°
Columbus
Cloudy
69° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 69°
Oxford
Cloudy
66° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 66°
Starkville
Cloudy
70° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 70°
Our stretch of dry weather will briefly be interrupted with rainfall chances through mid-day Thursday, but it’s hardly the only chance for rain for we have going forward.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather