A recent article, published in the United States, compares the film The Silent Scream with the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Just as the book opened the eyes of many Americans to the evils of slavery, and thus helped to end one major injustice, so too this film shows the reality and horror of abortion and pricks the consciences of all who have eyes that are willing to see.
On the twelfth anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade decision, President Reagan addressed thousands in the 1985 March for Life in Washington. Speaking via a special telephone hook-up, he said that “recent advances in medical technology have changed the “debate” on abortion. He predicted that the film The Silent Scream would profoundly affect the debate since it “provides chilling documentation of the horror of abortion. For the first time through the new technique of real-time ultrasound imaging, we’re able to see with our own eyes on film the abortion of a 12-week-old unborn child. It’s been said that if every member of Congress could see that film, they would move quickly to end the tragedy of abortion, and I pray that they will.”
Last June, at the National Right to Life Convention in Kansas City, I was present at the first public showing of the 20-minute real-time ultrasound film of an abortion and heard Dr. Nathanson’s explanation of it. Most pro-lifers now know that the film shows a tiny girl moving quietly and sucking her thumb in the safe haven of her mother’s womb. Seconds later her secure home is invaded by the abortionist’s instruments and, as she attempts to get away, her heartbeat almost doubles. The baby’s body is ripped apart and most of it is sucked away. However, the tiny head with part of the spine still attached remains behind, and this the abortionist finds and crushes to complete the cold-blooded killing.
Reports in The Interim concerning this film brought phone calls from across Canada “Where can we get copies of this film?” We had to answer that it was not yet available, and that, in any case, it would require an expert in ultrasound to interpret it. However, we did possess a sound tape of Dr. Nathanson’s voice as he explained the film at its first showing in Kansas City. Many people heard it and were profoundly moved, some to tears, all to shock and anger. We knew from the reactions of people who were not really pro-life, that with this film we had a potent weapon to save the pre-born child.
In the late fall of 1984 he Silent Scream was ready for distribution and reaction was immediate and world-wide. British pro-life MPs seized the opportunity to get their message across, especially to the fence-sitters. On January 23, they co-ordinated their privileges of booking a committee room in the Commons and organized a 12-hour continuous showing of the film with both a gynecologist-obstetrician and anesthetist in attendance to answer questions. This procedure has been, and will continue to be repeated. Meanwhile, a major organization, The Society for the Protection of Unborn children (SPUC) was reported to have over 1,000 copies of the film in circulation by the end of January and they still had difficulty in keeping up with the demand.
Canadian pro-lifers, especially those in Ottawa and the provincial capitals, are equally active and are using every means to reach their politicians. The film is in constant demand in all parts of the country as pro-life groups seek to get the maximum benefit from The Silent Scream.
Meanwhile in the United States (and in answer to President Reagan’s remarks), the producers of the film promised to send copies to the nine Supreme Court Justices and all members of Congress. Pro-life groups are working with State legislators and judges. The National Organization of Episcopalians for Life (NOEL) has bought 100 copies, “enough to send to every Diocesan Bishop” with the request that they be widely used before the Church’s General Convention next September. And so the list goes on!
“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” – Newton’s Third Law of Physics. So, too, in the fight for the unborn. Some medical men, Planned Parenthood and other apologists for the killing of the pre-born child (with the hearty co-operation of the media) reacted with an attack on The Silent Scream. Planned Parenthood called “propaganda”; Dr. Martin Gillieson of Ottawa called it “rank and stinking propaganda”; Clare Short, a strongly pro-abortionist British M.P. called it “hype.” The gynecologist at the House of Commons showing answered Ms. Short saying: “Propaganda these days means anything you don’t want to hear.” Glenys Roberts, a woman journalist who was present at this exchange, wrote: “If we are immune to finer feelings we should be bombarded with hype (propaganda).”
Two of the arguments used are that a 12-week-old fetus cannot feel pain (a debatable point at best) and that the fetus could not be aware of the fact that it was to be killed. In the States, Senator Steve Symms (R. Idaho) spoke scornfully of “these so-called experts …members of an infamous group of intellectual rationalists who, historically, have joined in speculating about other peoples’ suffering….The Spanish conquistadors had little trouble justifying their treatment of Native Americans – after all to them the Indians were not human beings, like a fetus is not a baby.”
We can concede that the little girl did not “know” that she was to be killed, but by the same token any two-month old post-born baby, any patient in a coma, or, come to that, any one of us in a deep sleep would be equally unaware of the danger. Lack of consciousness, on the part of a victim is neither an invitation nor an excuse for homicide – at least, not yet.
At the end of March, two Ottawa doctors made Canadian headlines and got extensive coverage on television by calling the film “dishonest.” Dr. Philip Hall found the film “artfully constructed and artfully contrived” and said it reminded him of Nazi propaganda. Dr. Gillieson who found it “rank and stinking propaganda” was more specific; he said his measurements suggested that the fetus was at least 13-1/2 weeks old; he believed certain sequences had been speeded up; he challenged Dr. Nathanson’s description of the ultrasound image, and said the gap in the image supposed to be the open mouth is the space between the fetus’ head and chest.
It is interesting to note that, should Dr. Gillieson be right and the fetus 13-1/2 weeks old, this would dispose of the argument that the baby could not feel pain. Expert medical consensus is that “functioning neurological structures necessary for pain sensation are in place …certainly by 13-1/2 weeks of gestation.” However, Dr. Mark Patry an Ottawa obstetrician-sonographer-gynaecologist disagrees with Dr. Gillieson. He viewed the film, took accurate measurements and wrote “These methods of assessing the fetal age are accurate to within 3-5 days of error, therefore, as a sonographer, I can vouch for the accuracy of the claim that we are indeed dealing with a 12 (twelve) week fetus.
In January, in reply to questions from MPs in the House of Commons in London, Dr. Ron Norris – a leading gynaecologist-obstetrician said that he had run the film in slow motion with his anesthetist. “The child reacted to pain and threat with frenetic movements. These might be accentuated by camera shake but you could not exaggerate the rise in the foetal heartbeat. That went from 140 to over 200.”
On February 23, 1985, Dr. Ian Donald entered the debate. In a sworn affidavit he said that he had viewed the film no less than four times and added “I am of the opinion that the fetal activities depicted by ultrasonic real-time scanning in this film are not faked nor the result of artifact intentional or otherwise.”
Dr. Ian Donald
Dr. Ian Donald led the world in the development of diagnostic ultrasound. In 1958 he was the first person ever to use ultrasound equipment (and this was largely of his own devising) on a pregnant woman. From 1955 until he retired from his Edinburgh hospital in 1981, he was continuously involved in the development and exploitation of diagnostic ultrasound. Obviously, therefore, his affidavit was extremely important.
In Canada however the affidavit was ignored, and, accordingly, Carl Scharfe of The Interim, had a telephone interview with Dr. Gillieson. The response to the question about the affidavit was a curt “Dr. Ian Donald is old and sick” and Dr. Gillieson added that he had been out of the field for a long time. He said, “I want to emphasize that most of his work was done in the forties and fifties.” That is an incredible statement and completely and demonstrably untrue.
As late as 1981, Dr. Ian Donald was still engaged in pioneer work, this time in filming fetal activity by means of ultrasound. In 1979-80 he made a videotape which showed unborn children at ages ranging from eight to twelve weeks from conception. Subsequently the tape was made into a 16mm. film entitled Human Development Before Birth. This, and another film Jumpimg for Joy, were shown at the Borowski trial in May 1983. At that time Dr. Lejeune, who is probably the world’s leading geneticist, testified that when he and others saw the original tape (not the film), a year and a half before, they were all excited. “We can see the baby jumping at two months of age and that is beyond any possible discussion. And that was not known before Dr. Ian Donald demonstrated it. It was supposed to be, but it was not demonstrated.” Dr. Ian Donald was still at the front edge when he retired; many so-called experts are still catching up.
However, when Dr. Gillieson heard Dr. Donald’s affidavit he asked to have it repeated. Then he said: “I want to get to the nitty-gritty part of this statement. I am not sure he (Donald) would agree therefore with the narration. You see it occurs to me that I don’t think the film’s faked either. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the film’s a fake… I think the narration is dishonest.” Dr. Gillieson agrees that the film does show a real-time ultrasound image of a fetus undergoing an abortion. The pity of it is that when he was talking to the press or on television that this belief was not stated or, possibly, not reported. The impression that he and Dr. Hall gave was that the whole film was faked. Meanwhile Dr. Nathanson plans to give the whole raw, uncut footage of the original tape (as we saw it in Kansas City) to scientific communities for study.
All of this acrimonious criticism of the film is really beside the point. It is a conjurer’s trick to deflect one’s attention from the main issue. The Silent Scream shows a living human within her mother’s womb – that little child is decapitated and torn apart. No one has disputed this. Does it matter whether the child was eleven or twelve weeks? She is still dead. We saw her killed.