The XX Factor

Samantha Bee Unearthed a Horrifying Film From the Dawn of the Pro-Life Movement

Abortion providers vacuum up top-hat-wearing fetuses in a propaganda film that helped popularized the nascent pro-life movement.

Whatever Happened to the Human Race?/Full Frontal

For those of us born long after the religious right had secured its chokehold on the sanity of liable Americans, the history of the movement—and its obsession with abortion in particular—can get lost in the chaotic rancor of its current proponents. But it’s worth reminding ourselves every now and again of the bizarre details of its oft-forgotten roots.

Samantha Bee has pinpointed one of the weirdest relics of the movement’s infancy: a horror flick made to strike fear into the hearts of baby-loving conservatives across the country. “Many people think the new religious right arose as a response to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, but that’s not true,” Bee began in her bit from Monday night’s Full Frontal. She traces the movement back to a few years after Roe, when religious leaders such as Jerry Falwell and Paul Weyrich rather arbitrarily chose abortion as their next issue with which to ignite Christian furor.

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Enter Frank Schaeffer, a sci-fi filmmaker who tells Bee and her team that contributing to the launch of what became the pro-life movement is “the single greatest regret of my life.” In the ’70s, Schaeffer made a film called Whatever Happened to the Human Race? with the help of his father—and the clips Full Frontal pulled are almost too disturbingly on-the-nose to be believed. There are images of children with white faces painting in blood-red, baby dolls scattered on the shores of present-day Sodom; other baby dolls rolling down a conveyor into a garbage incinerator; and a real toddler crying in a cage, banging on the bars to escape. “Ten bucks says that kid is still ‘making films’ in the Valley,” says Bee of the tot, who Schaeffer says was volunteered for the role by his California Christian parents.

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But the creepiest part of this early anti-abortion film fest is a cartoon Bee calls “Homeschool-house Rock.” The video, made to screen at churches around the country to enlist them in a fight most evangelical leaders would have rather left to Catholics, shows evil doctors using hoses to suck up dancing fetuses wearing top hats and canes while scantily clad nurses drop-kick a series of swaddled infants. In the vein of so many propaganda films, it would seem like a hilarious parody if it weren’t such an effective, damaging piece of political messaging.

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Bee also nails the hypocrisy of abortion clinic terrorists who call themselves pro-life and points out the willful ignorance of Bible-thwacking abortion-clinic protesters who don’t care that the Bible says exactly nothing about abortion. And lest any of us think 9/11 conspiracy theories are the stuff of fringe nutjobs and the Westboro Baptist Church, Bee reminds us that Falwell, a religious leader regularly hailed by mainstream American politicians all the way up to the president, believed abortion was to blame for the terrorist attack. “The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this, because God will not be mocked,” Falwell says in a clip from Sept. 13, 2001. “When we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I point the finger in their face and say ‘You helped this happen.’ ”

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