It's almost impossible to make a fair-minded, non-exploitative documentary about the abortion debate, but Stephen Fell and Will Thompson take a credible shot with Unborn In The USA: Inside The War On Abortion, despite a clear undertone of alarm about the pervasiveness of the pro-life movement. For the most part, Fell and Thompson spend Unborn In The USA exploring the differences among pro-lifers, who run the gamut from those who believe that shooting abortion doctors is a righteous act to those who think that even non-violent public protests may be too radical. The documentary lets all of its subjects speak their piece, and even gives the pro-choice side a voice—though most pro-choicers are likely to be annoyed that their side is represented exclusively by inarticulate college students shouting profanities at pro-life demonstrators.
That lack of balance is by design, and while it's frustrating, it's forgivable. What's more of a problem is how much of Unborn In The USA is anecdotal. While Fell and Thompson toss out a number of factoids about this or that protest march or this or that "religious-right group" being the "largest," actual numbers are scarce. If we go by what the film's interview subjects say, abortion is both on the rise and on the decline, and both more accepted by society and less accepted. Unborn In The USA's approach is defined by the women of "Silent No More," who use the fact that they personally regret their abortions as proof that abortion is more harmful to women than the medical culture will admit. Even though it's clear from the ominous music and careful factoid placement that Fell and Thompson aren't on the pro-life side, they're still buying into the terms of an argument that—on both sides—has become increasingly based on individual unease.
Unborn In The USA is far more successful at detailing "the state of the cause." A clever cross-cut between a bloody "Justice For All" campus exhibit and scenes from Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ makes the point that evangelicals are getting more comfortable with gore as a rhetorical device, even as some of the group's members wonder whether their generation has become too desensitized. The modern pro-life movement seems primarily interested in changing minds along with changing law, and the question their disciples are asking is whether guerrilla theater or threats of violence prompt anything other than more fruitless shouting matches.