Anti-Abortion Movie's Producer Hopes Her Film Undoes Roe v. Wade, Which Her Uncle Upheld

A scene from the anti-abortion documentary Divided Hearts of America has a 2018 changing of the guard at the U.S. Supreme Court, with Justice Anthony Kennedy retiring and being replaced by Justice Brett Kavanaugh. "Nothing could prepare the nation for the ramifications of the 2016 presidential election," says the film's narrator, former New England Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson.

The scene suggests that Roe v. Wade could be overturned, given that Kennedy, who was the swing vote in upholding the nation's abortion-rights law in 1992's Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, is no longer on the court. It's an ironic scene because the anti-abortion movie was produced by Kennedy's niece, Elizabeth Kennedy-Ryzewicz.

While the movie has been available for several months on the Salem Now streaming platform, Kennedy-Ryzewicz has so far not promoted it, until speaking to Newsweek.

When Uncle Tony, as Kennedy-Ryzewicz refers to the retired justice, joined the liberal members of the Supreme Court in upholding Roe v. Wade, it was a surprise to many conservatives who had supported him, since he was nominated by President Ronald Reagan. Naturally, all this would be worthy of exploring in a movie about abortion.

"I asked him and Justice Clarence Thomas for an interview, but of course they can't be interviewed on topics that could potentially necessitate they be recused from something," said Kennedy-Ryzewicz. "My Uncle Tony retired from the Supreme Court, but he's still a federal judge who can sit on cases across the country."

She called her uncle a "brilliant writer and voracious reader who really appreciates story." He liked Divided Hearts of America "for its writing and symbolism involving the ocean, Lady Justice and Lady Liberty."

DividedHearts
Benjamin Watson, the film's narrator, and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina in a scene from “Divided Hearts of America.” Courtesy of "Divided Hearts of America"

The possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned is even stronger now that President Donald Trump has nominated Amy Coney Barrett to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died September 18. Kennedy-Ryzewicz hopes her film can bring more Americans to the anti-abortion side. That's why she's lengthening the 80-minute movie and negotiating for a theatrical release, more streaming platforms and DVD distribution.

"We have so many beautiful interviews," said Kennedy-Ryzewicz, who worked as a story editor at Mel Gibson's Icon Productions when he was making The Passion of the Christ. "Dr. Ben Carson, for example, gave us one of the longest, most overtly pro-life interviews of his career, but we cut it down to a few moments."

In the film, Carson, a retired neurosurgeon and now secretary of housing and urban development, speaks about operating on a fetus while it was still in the womb and how that fetus became a healthy woman who thanked Carson's wife for her life. "That's why no one will ever convince me that what's inside a woman's uterus is a meaningless bunch of cells," Carson says in the movie.

Another of those "beautiful" interviews is of Melissa Ohden, whose well-to-do family forced her unmarried mother to have an abortion but she survived the procedure. "We're actually called 'the dreaded complication of abortion'.... Accidentally, I was born alive," says Ohden. She says that her grandmother argued for her to be left to die, but nurses saved her life.

The film also profiles Ryan Bomberger, whose mother conceived him after a violent rape.

"I'm that fringe example. I'm that exception that even pro-lifers have a hard time embracing," he says in the movie. "I'm the 1 percent that's used 100 percent of the time to justify abortion. My birth mom went through the horror and violence of rape, but she still not only gave me the gift of life but gave me the gift of adoption.... What led to my conception doesn't change my worth."

Kennedy-Ryzewicz said she was inspired to make the movie after New York state legislators passed in 2019 the Reproductive Health Act, which legalized late-stage abortions for the benefit of a woman's health. But she couldn't locate anyone who could define exactly what that meant.

In the movie, Watson, who retired from the NFL in March, says he reached out to 30 New York lawmakers, as well as Governor Andrew Cuomo, to get the abortion-rights side for the movie. Two agreed to be interviewed, state Senators Gustavo Rivera and Liz Krueger, who are given lots of time to defend their positions in a movie that's opposed to those stances.

"The film gives an unapologetically pro-life perspective that boldly tells the truth without any pretense of shame for pre-abortive or post-abortive women," Kennedy-Ryzewicz said. "There are things in our movie that the mainstream media and pop culture don't want you to know."

Does she want her film to influence the upcoming presidential election? You bet. "Every American, if they want to make an informed decision on November 3, either needs to do several months of devoted research on this topic or see our film," she said.

Oct. 13, 2020: Story updated to reflect Ben Carson's current position.