Roe v. Wade Movie Shows Where Good Intentions Can Lead

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“Pawns are the soul of the game.” 

So says the young, woefully naive Bernard Nathanson to his father during a game of chess, doting girlfriend at his side. As Nick Loeb and Cathy Allyn’s film Roe v. Wade begins, the line foreshadows the introduction of Norma McCorvey, also known as Jane Roe, perhaps history’s most tragic pawn. A troubled, economically disadvantaged teen who dropped out of her Texas high school, became pregnant, and sought an illegal abortion, the vulnerable McCorvey was, for those who wanted abortion laws repealed, the poster child they needed — and used — to win their case. 

As the movie progresses, though, it becomes clear that Nathanson (played by Loeb) is not only the co-founder of the National Abortion Rights Action League and an abortionist who claimed, by his own estimate, 70,000 lives — but also himself a pawn, “a person or thing manipulated and used by others.” And Loeb presents this supposition well, portraying Nathanson as a credible medical expert and sincere, well-meaning women’s rights ally, a figure his peers knew was critical to generating widespread public support for the attempt to legalize abortion in America. 

Roe v. Wade the movie attempts to tell what happened behind the scenes that led to the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. It presents several stories. At the heart of each:  the question of truth, with a piercing spotlight on the power of temptation to dissolve the solid intentions of even the most decent person.

Roe invites us to witness internal struggles common to humans weighing right and wrong; but the struggles among this group were uncommon, and their surrenders led to deadly consequences. Nathanson assumed that all doctors eventually breached their Hippocratic oath, which explicitly excluded abortion as treatment. This, along with a haunting memory of his helplessness during one girlfriend’s traumatic abortion, justified his chosen specialization. The lucrative aspects of performing abortions persuaded his wife, despite her initial morality-driven hesitation. The movie even suggests to the viewer that abortion wasn’t at the top of feminist icon Betty Friedan’s priority list, until Larry Lader, NARAL’s founding chairman, who personifies evil in the movie, convinced her it should be.    

The film extends its right-wrong dichotomy beyond flawed individuals. Not surprisingly, Planned Parenthood inhabits the crosshairs. Those who have seen Unplanned, the 2019 movie about former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson, will recognize the throwing-under-a-bus maneuver Roe v. Wade uses. But there are important distinctions. While Unplanned rolled back and forth over the organization mercilessly, Roe v. Wade suggests a theoretically respectable family planning mission gone awry.

Indeed, in the movie, Friedan questions how effective a strategic partnership between NARAL and Planned Parenthood could be, given that Planned Parenthood’s earlier brochures condemned abortion because it “kills the life of a baby after it has begun” and “is dangerous to your life and health.” (The entire brochure is available by clicking here. A snippet is below.)


As the film points out, Planned Parenthood began in ugliness. The antagonists in the film refer to Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger’s espousal of eugenics. She sought to decrease the numbers of the “unfit” among us.

The film also attempts to pull back a soiled curtain on the judiciary, beginning in Dallas and ending at the U.S. Supreme Court itself. While we see “the other side” stencil “choice” and “privacy” on its sails, toss calculated lies into shark-infested media waters, and chart a clear course among the masses, the movie depicts those on the pro-life side — legal minds, the religious, the otherwise biologically informed — as caring yet disorganized, repeatedly shocked yet too numb to fight back effectively. Loeb’s film suggests one incompetence and preventable miscalculation after another, along with a disturbing series of right-wrong choices among the justices themselves that ultimately resulted in the most superior “wrong” on January 22, 1973.    

Redemption is a welcome salve in movies like these, and the viewer gets to experience a bit of that with Nathanson, when he poignantly enters the light of truth, with humility, repentance, and courage. Dr. Nathanson wrote in Hand of God, his autobiography, that truth, in the form of ultrasound technology introduced in the mid-1970s, brought about his conversion. Loeb’s performance in the film, when Nathanson witnesses this truth, grips the viewer. He sees life, which he has destroyed thousands of times, and at last draws the correct conclusion.

The scene should shake each of us by the shoulders, pro-life or not. This isolated moment at the film’s climax, when a human’s existence ends only because she is the weak among the powerful, is something we continue to allow. Worse, too many look away. This is the painful truth.

The Roe v. Wade cast is as impressive as Loeb’s feat of bringing this movie into the mainstream. It’s worth your time and reflection. (And it doesn’t take much effort to get it — you can stream it on the Massachusetts Citizens for Life web site.) I appreciated the film’s historic context that surrounded the case and a close look at players whose actions shaped its outcome. Yet the greater value of this movie is that it serves as a grim reminder that the darkness of lies constantly threatens the light of truth. 

Today, the illogical allures of “freedom” and “equality” remain the rhetorical foundations of a barbaric act. And the mob mentality fuels it all, more dangerously now because of lightning fast communication via social media and the “I decide” mantra that sustains it.

Yet supporters of life and of women’s best interests have become more sophisticated, our argument more impactful, and we are on the side of truth. With the help of films like this one, we will win. Life will win. 


Myrna Maloney Flynn is a communications practitioner with leadership experience in marketing, broadcasting, nonprofit development, and education. She serves as Chief Marketing & Communications Officer at Montrose School in Medfield, Massachusetts. She is also the President of Massachusetts Citizens for Life.