The thing about the film October Baby is you may not be able to watch it. The movie is an emotional one, and for some people who find the abortion subject an emotional one, this movie October Baby may be too much. Provocative as that statement may be, this Religion Writer’s assistant Linda Shirado found it too much of an emotional and dramatic series of events about a woman who as a baby survived the abortion that tried to end her life, much too much so. What is meant by much too much, is simply that Linda said it was too much of a story based on a real life person, too much of an emotional series of coming to terms by the various characters in the movie, and simply as a sensitive and observant woman of the Roman Catholic faith, she didn’t need to expose herself to the movie.
For this reviewer and for anyone who watches it, the film work is a well done movie that is a true heartbreaker. There was more than mist in my eyes throughout the viewing of the film. In fact, some will probably cry—a lot. One could say as a statement that calls to any member of the audience’s attention the known fact that the abortion issue in the United States is an emotional one; the film October Baby is an effective series of true life experiences of an abortion survivor who in the imaginative and well-conceived filmic journey of coming of age and discovery of who this 19-year old college freshman may be for her life, plays on the physical ailments and reality of adoption. Her journey includes finding her birth mother as she recognizes that her lovely and loving parents of conscience need want her and wanted her as a baby.
In an interview with film director Andrew Irwin by phone from his home in Birmingham, Alabama to this writer at his home office in Mill Valley, California, north of San Francisco, the following:
Peter Menkin: The movie you directed, October Baby, is a message film. Some would call it a propaganda film for anti-abortion. What do you say was the main intent of your work as director…to create with your actors a movie that transcends such description? Will you tell us of the dramatic and even emotional scenes in October Baby, which for you were the most compelling in dramatic terms?
Andrew Irwin: Our goal with this movie was not necessarily to preach. As filmmakers, the first goal and obligation is to tell a story. This is why October Baby is different: it tells the story through the victim’s eyes.
My brother is the writer, and he had heard Gianni Jessen speak. He was so moved that he said, I have to tell this: a coming-of-age love story about a girl who is an adopted abortion survivor. Because it’s ultimately about the power of forgiveness, it stands out from propaganda.
We try to bring craft and excellence in the acting of this film. One line in this film says, human beings are beautifully flawed. In another key scene, the nurse tells the protagonist, Hannah, what she saw [at Hannah’s birth at the abortion clinic]. When we talked with Jasmine Guy, she said, “I see a tired and weary soul filled with regret.” And that’s how we wished to show the character: not as villain but victim.
In another scene, this one in St. Paul Cathedral in Birmingham, Priest Rodney defines forgiveness in a way that pierces through with the message.
As the Producers declare in their synopsis of the film, in a manner that makes one suspicious that the movie is a work of propaganda that is anti-abortion, ““You saw me before I was born.” Psalm 139:16 (NLT)
As the curtain rises, Hannah hesitantly steps onto the stage for her theatrical debut in college. Yet before she can utter her first lines, Hannah—unscripted—collapses in front of the stunned audience.
After countless medical tests, all signs point to one underlying factor: Hannah’s difficult birth. This revelation is nothing compared to what she then learns from her parents: she was actually adopted . . . after a failed abortion attempt.”
No doubt Hannah, who is played as the attractive, thoughtful and ever young woman with real trouble, is in her first starring role in a feature film: Rachel Hendrix–plays Hannah Lawson in October Baby. Rachel grew up in Dothan, Alabama, and attended The University of Montevallo, earning a bachelor of fine arts degree in photography.
This is her first movie, and her performance is intimate, for some probably a little overplayed, but for this reviewer an insightful and concerned play of not too much sensitivity and self-concern. Having met a few young, college age, women who have had serious physical problems like seizures, there is no doubt in my mind that the maladies require extra love and care on the part of family, friends, and even colleagues. Though not 100 percent disabled, Hannah, who must manage her chronic physical problems with medical supervision, is a survivor. For all her vulnerability, she is a strong and courageous character, played with a passion for life.
The ongoing message theme of the movie, is made not explicitly, nor with heavy hand; this regardless of the fact is the producers chose to publically use some of their profits to aid the anti-abortion movement. The producers announce in their own words, “The producers of October Baby have assigned 10% of the profits of the movie to the Every Life is Beautiful Fund, which will distribute funds to frontline organizations helping women facing crisis pregnancies, life-affirming adoption agencies, and those caring for orphans.”
Director Andrew Irwin knew he was making a kind of statement regarding the survival of abortion, and the evils of abortion—its risks and troubles. He says:
Peter Menkin: Tell us about that evening or day when you originally heard the true story of an abortion survivor. You said in an interview about the film in the online edition of The Christian Post, “We heard a girl named Gianna Jessen speak who is an abortion survivor with cerebral palsy [due to her premature birth from the attempted abortion] and we were so arrested by her testimony that we had to do something with the information we had learned,” Erwin shared. Looking at the issue through the eyes of a victim was a really disarming way to engage a touchy subject… Eryn Sun conducted that interview. In this one with this Religion Writer, also, tell us about the manner of your being convinced to do the movie by Gianna Jessen’s testimony.
Andrew Irwin: We heard her story not intending to find a story, when John heard her speak at a pro-life banquet. You can debate politics all day long but not a person’s story. To hear her story is heartbreaking. To hear how she lives beyond being an abortion survivor moved me and my brother. That arrested us and we knew survivors needed a voice. We knew if we put this in a love story like October Baby, it would really engage viewers. The movie is to ask questions and allow viewers to ask questions they would not have heard before.
There is a real Sympatico if not willingness, nay, even eagerness on the part of the actors to let this message-film of dramatic stance and value play its emotional way into the viewer’s recognition–that people, women and their unborn babies, are hurt by abortion. The father of the protagonist, Hannah, offers a good looking, and masculine portrayal of a man who loves his wife, holds conscientious Christian values, and in his attractive and heart rendering brings us a sense of a man who stays with his daughter during her coming of age, and is engaged in comforting a young woman who is an adopted child. It is apparent through dialogue and performance that because she is adopted, Hannah is all the more precious to him and his wife.
Veteran actor John Schneider plays Hannah’s father, Dr. Jacob Lawson, in October Baby. He began acting at age 8 in his home state of New York before moving to Atlanta at 14 and becoming involved in local theater and film. His first role was a small part in SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT in 1977. His big break came when he won the role of Bo Duke on “The Dukes of Hazard,” which ran on CBS from 1979 to 1985. John Schneider has reason to be proud of his work, not because of the message, but because in this reviewer’s estimation, he does bring to life the kind of touching and even emotional relationship that a father feels for a daughter in need and ongoing crisis because of medical problems. It is not solely that she is a survivor as a baby of an abortion attempt that colors his fatherhood. It is as much he as father and husband joins his wife in their willingness to love an adopted child, regardless of the situation and life’s travails and adventures. I think most members of the audience will recognize the kind of subtle difference that the situation and background in story brings to this kind of performance, and allows it to have such leeway—rather than call this melodrama!
No doubt, Director Andrew Irwin in the interview with him, steps up to the plate and is willing to face and comment on some hard questions. Does he think the movie a tearjerker?
Peter Menkin: When people come to see the film, October Baby, do you note there are a lot of misty eyes in the audience, and many tears? When I viewed the review copy, sent to me on DVD, I was misty eyed throughout the entire movie. I’m curious to know if I am a minority in that experience. Other than a good cry, what do you think will bring viewers to this movie, and do you think people will see it in theatres that are not anti-abortion?
Andrew Irwin: You’re not in the minority, Peter. Whether a teenage girl, or a father, or someone post abortive…each person connects to “October Baby” on a different level. It really engages heart and emotions. Our intention was to tell the story and to laugh as well as to cry—and there are heartwarming moments. Along that journey are both tears and happiness.
We did a lot of focus groups to find out if we told the movie correctly. Some things worked and very well. We never intended to manipulate the audience but to tell an honest story.
In a YouTube video, Andrew Irwin speaks to his wife’s birth experience. Apparently, for many, the film brings out various self-searchings. It does for the Director in this statement:
Andrew Irwin birth of baby—wife’s experience.
Abortion is in the news, and public opinion polls indicate Americans are changing their views on abortion. The numbers say they are becoming more concerned about the effects of abortion, and more that they are even becoming more anti-abortion. The U.S. Congress is holding hearings on the subject, and just recently in March, 2012, the President of Harvard Divinity School testified before the committee.
Penny Starr reported on her testimony for the conservative news service www.CNSNews.com , under the story headline, Priest Who Calls Abortion a ‘Blessing’ Tells Congress She’d Break Law to Help Minor Cross State Line to Get One. A not so unbiased headline. Maybe even an inflammatory headline.
The Very Reverend Doctor Katherine Hancock’s testimony is found here. The story by Penny Starr is found here. President Ragsdale was not available for comment for this article-review, and Harvard Divinity School said she was out of the country.
The Episcopal Priest Ragsdale is reported to have made a theme of her willingness to transport an underage (15-year old) girl child across state lines to get an abortion. The subcommittee chairman, Republican Trent Franks remarked: “I always find it a little unnerving when people tell me that to say that, you know, that someone taking a minor child of someone else’s across the state lines to perform – or having surgery performed upon them – that somehow, that it’s unconstitutional to recognize parents’ rights in that regard,” Franks said. “It just astonishes me beyond comprehension.”
Reporter Penny Starr says in her story, and this is used with permission, “When a woman gets pregnant against her will and wants an abortion – it’s the violence that is the tragedy; the abortion is a blessing.
“When a woman might want to bear and raise a child but fears she can’t afford to because she doesn’t have access to healthcare or daycare or enough income to provide a home —it’s the lack of justice that is the tragedy; the abortion is a blessing.
“When a woman has planned and provided for a pregnancy, decorated the nursery and chosen a name, and, in the last weeks, discovers that her fetus will not live to become a baby, that it has anomalies incompatible with life, and that preserving her own life and health, and sparing the fetus suffering, require a late-term abortion – it’s the loss of her hopes and dreams that is the tragedy; the abortion is a blessing.
“And, and here’s one that really gets me in trouble, when a woman simply gets pregnant unintentionally and decides this is not a good time for her to bear and care for a child – there is no tragedy. The ability to enjoy healthy sexuality without risking a pregnancy that could derail her education or career, the development or exercise of the gifts God has given her, is a blessing.”
Ragsdale then added, “Now just in case there are any aspiring headline writers listening – let me be clear – motherhood also is a gift and a ministry and a blessing – but not for everyone, and not always right now.”
“Abortion is a blessing – sometimes a joyful relief; sometimes a painful choice – but a blessing still,” she added.
In that same speech, Ragsdale also said that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, gave women “freedom from slavery to our reproductive systems.”
This reviewer does not think of the movie, October Baby, as a woman’s film. The very subject matter and the usefulness of the message, let alone the kind of emotional and moving story, make the film a human film. Men are as concerned for their children and their unborn child as is any parent in the matter of conception and birth. It is their right as a man, and as a parent. Nonetheless, speaking to the subject of woman’s interest in the film and the subject at hand, Director Andrew Irwin says:
Peter Menkin: Can I put you on the hot seat for a moment? Will you respond to the accusation seen so frequently in the press, like Washington Post, where it is charged anti-abortion and anti-contraceptive arguments damage women’s rights? Please be rhetorical, if you wish to be so.
Andrew Irwin: As a man from Alabama, I believe that “October Baby” is a strong film precisely because so many women in this film have been positively moved. In this story, I can’t imagine how the abortion survivor, Hannah, felt her rights were being taken away her. The actor Sheri Rigbee, as she was reading the script, called to tell us, “I am post abortive. I want to talk about how abortion has affected me.” She says in testimony for publication by the Producers:
Jon and Andy Erwin e-mailed me the script for October Baby, and I was so excited I sat down to read it that night. I got to the point of the birth mother, and I was overwhelmed. I started crying because the story had truly been written for me. The remarkable thing was Jon and Andy didn’t know my past at all. I called Jon weeping, asking him, “How did you know?” He of course didn’t know what I was talking about, so I told him about my past—how 20 years ago, I was working at a law firm, just like the birth mother in the story. I was in a relationship, found out I was pregnant and decided to have an abortion.
At the time, it was easier to get rid of the child, to not be questioned, rather than to have the child and be looked upon as another failure. As young women, sometimes our circumstances aren’t ideal, and we feel it would be a burden to have a child. At the time, I already had one child from a previous marriage and was not in a relationship where I felt secure enough to have another. You can have the baby and feel like a failure, or you can have an abortion and hide that secret until you finally talk about it. At the time I received the October Baby script, I had not told anyone about my abortion except my husband and a few close friends. I felt like receiving this role was God’s way of telling me I needed to share my story. So I agreed to play the part.
I remember it being time to film my breakdown scene. The cameras were rolling, and right as I walked into the room I knew the Lord was with me. It was complete healing in the moment—I wasn’t acting. That was my moment with God and His with me. I slid down the door crying, and I felt him speaking to me, saying, “It’s OK. It’s over. You’ve been forgiven.”
Andrew Irwin: Many women have seen the film and said they were really affected as post-abortive women. I think the thing that separates “October Baby” from propaganda is that I just set out to tell a story. In the meantime, I have found so many women who have said how it affects them. I am a man, and I never want to presume to know.
Our intention with October Baby was not to make a political film but a human story. I’ve heard it said that the job of a filmmaker is to just shine a light on something. I think October Baby doesn’t force feed but engage people—to be human is to be beautifully flawed. It is not to villain-ize anyone but to bring a story in a humble way, not in a way that people feel attacked.
The Press Release by the Producers emphasizes that women will find this movie of considerable interest, and not see it as a tangent of the issue, but a slice of life film for them:
“There are more of us than what most people realize,” said Gianna Jessen, an attempted abortion survivor who speaks nationally on the subject. “I am contacted regularly by survivors who heard or saw me on a show or when I speak, and they discover that they are not alone. In just the past two weeks, I have been contacted by two more survivors. I suspect that OCTOBER BABY may have an effect on other survivors coming out, which is exciting.”
Jessen is among women personally touched by the issues raised in October Baby appearing in a special video conclusion for advance screenings of the movie. Like the film itself, the women’s stories are touching audience members.
Additionally, October Baby is drawing wide support from organizations concerned about family issues including partners such as American Family Association, Bethany Christian Services, Care Net, Concerned Women for America, FamilyLife, Focus on the Family, Hope for Orphans and many others.
In making their statements about abortion and the public issue, the producer’s cite these statistics:
Hannah’s story is a fictional account drawn from hundreds of actual incidents of survivors of attempted abortion. Statistics on abortion in general are widely available:
n 22 percent of pregnancies in the United States end in abortion.
n 40 percent of unintended pregnancies end in abortion.
n 18 percent of women having an abortion in the United States are teenagers.
n More than half of U.S. abortions are performed on women in their 20s.
n In the United States, 1.21 million abortions are performed annually.
n Since 1973, the year of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, about 50 million abortions have been performed in the United States.
n Of abortion providers in the U.S.:
n The number of abortions has trended down over the past 20 years:
n Total abortions are down as well:
SOURCE: The Alan Guttmacher Institute
It is the scene with the nurse who helped with Hannah’s mother’s failed-abortion and later the birth of Hannah, that this Religion Writer found most effective. The character of the African American nurse apparently was so moved by the reality of the abortion attempt and the moral dimensions of the harm done to the child born of the birth mother, that in the aftermath of the medical act she leaves nursing forever. She gives a moving performance in October Baby in the scene where she helps Hannah literally locate her birth mother so she can meet her mother.
The secret for success and viewing pleasure for the audience and the film October Baby is outlined in the premise that this is a film that needs to engage the viewer. That is the Director’s intention with the work. He says in the interview:
Peter Menkin: It has been a pleasure to have the opportunity to view the film October Baby and have this time to talk to you in interview. If there is anything you’d like to add, please do so now. And again, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me by phone this morning.
Andrew Irwin: I’m privileged to talk with you and share a story that has really affected my life. The film comes out March 23rd. John and I can make a film, but what makes a movie is the audience engages with it. Every life is beautiful. It’s been a rewarding journey to be part of it, and to see how it touches so many people.
The writers emphasize that the real religious message of the film is “forgiveness.” Bewildered, angered, and confused, Hannah turns for support to Jason, her oldest friend. Encouraged by his adventurous spirit, Hannah joins his group of friends on a Spring Break road trip, embarking on a journey to discover her hidden past . . . and finds hope in giving forgiveness.
RELEASE DATE March 23, 2012
Jason Burkey (FOR THE GLORY) as Jason
John Schneider (Smallville, The Dukes of Hazzard) as Jacob
Jasmine Guy (A Different World) as Mary
Shari Rigby (NOT TODAY, The Bold and the Beautiful) as Cindy
Jennifer Price as Grace
Chris Sligh (American Idol) as Bmac
DIRECTORS Andrew and Jon Erwin
EXECUTIVE Andrew Erwin
PRODUCERS Jon Erwin
Dave Alan Johnson
PRODUCERS Dan Atchison
ASSOCIATE John Bauman
PRODUCERS Kristopher Kimlin
STORY Andrew Erwin
WRITTEN BY Jon Erwin
Public Opinion on Abortion
The Gallup polling organization has charted public opinion on abortion since 1996. At that time:
n 56 percent of respondents identified as pro-choice.
n 33 percent of respondents identified as pro-life.
In the 2011 survey:
n 47 percent identified as pro-choice.
n 47 percent identified as pro-life.
SOURCE: Gallup, http://www.gallup.com/poll/1576/abortion.aspx