A documentary about late-term abortions in Russia, seven years in the making, has just been released.
“Killing Girls” has already been nominated for best documentary film in three European film festivals and through the wonders of technology is available to download online for $14.99, which I did last weekend. (DVD is also available for $22.99.) Here’s the trailer:
The primary setting of “Killing Girls” is the Center for Family Planning and Reproduction in St Petersburg, a large, old hospital where babies are delivered on one floor and aborted on the next. Mothers recover together.
Late-term abortions are common in Russia. In a country where the film tells us 80 percent of women abort an average of two to 10 times, older girls tell younger girls to wait until after 20 weeks to abort because, they say, it is better for the female body to have an induced abortion than surgical abortion. The girls worry about becoming sterile. Very messed up. This despite the fact abortions are free up to 12 weeks.
“Killing Girls” tracks the labor-induction abortions of several teens. The name of the movie is a play on words, because as Irish director David Kinsella wrote me, “All the girls I filmed gave birth to girls.” By “gave birth” Kinsella meant aborting by labor induction, except one who changed her mind and went on to deliver a full-term girl.
Girls abort their babies in wards. Kinsella wrote, “In the film, we have around 18 girls all in the same room, and all of them give birth to their babies in the same room and the same evening, every one going through each other’s birth.”
Despite that backdrop, “Killing Girls” “is not pro-life or pro-choice,” Kinsella wrote me. “It is a film that will not judge what is right or wrong, this you and the public need to decide.”
I would say except for one glaring omission, Kinsella is right. “Killing Girls” evenhandedly attempts to rationalize the need for legalized abortion in Russia while showing the physical pain of late-term abortions and the psychological toll of abortion in general on both mothers and doctors.
The omission is the baby in the room: the actual abortions. My lone complaint about “Killing Girls” is it did not show them.
I asked Kinsella how he could make a movie about abortion but not show it. This was an unfair treatment of his subject.
Kinsella responded he did have graphic footage but chose not to include it in the film because, “I think … I will have a much higher success rate with the normal public by not showing scary images. People, especially women, just would turn off. I already have a number of countries that want to use my film in the teenage sex education. So even if I am neither pro-life nor choice, you are getting the effect of the film. Actually the public who have watched the film in the cinema were in shock when it was finished. They said that they were totally exhausted.”
Yes, I was spent after watching “Killing Girls.” I don’t think any pro-choicer could argue after viewing it that abortion is a right to be celebrated with no lingering after-effects, not just on the mother but on an entire culture. Importantly, abortion is also shown as the result of a decaying culture.
The best pro-choicers might argue after viewing “Killing Girls” abortion is a necessary evil, which is not very winning.
Because these were labor-induction abortions, I asked Kinsella if any babies survived. “Yes,” he responded, “I had one baby that was crying and alive for a short while when it was born.”
The darkest underbelly of abortion at this point remains locked in a vault on a reel.
Abortion in Russia is prevalent, the film tells us, because the topic of sex is taboo, resulting in grand scale ignorance among youth on how pregnancy happens, and because women don’t like hormonal contraceptives and men don’t like condoms. Abortion is a primary means of contraception.
But there are deeper reasons, dating back to the Communist takeover of Russia in the early 20th century (and with it the ousting of God, which the film does not consider).
After that came World War II, which took the lives of so many Russian men and left women and children to fend for themselves. The narrator of the story, Anna Sirota, is a 40-year-old whose grandmother’s advice to her when she married at age 19 was to abort if becoming pregnant. Sirota complied, bearing only one daughter and having four abortions.
Sirota relates, “In American films, everyone congratulates pregnant women. I’m sorry that we’ve never had that tradition in Russia.”
Sirota’s own parents were only the result of a baby boom beginning in 1946 when Stalin outlawed abortion. It was re-legalized in 1955.
Perestroika in the late 1980s added to the reliance on abortion, recounts Sirota. With it came the chaos of sudden independence and responsibilities that entail poverty, lawlessness (rape) and further loss of mores. (“The children of the perestroika are neither good nor bad, only different,” she says.)
The lone teen in “Killing Girls” who decides against abortion and keeps her baby was tracked for two years and shown to end up with a dead end, chain-smoking life (and subsequent abortion) – although both she and her mother loved her daughter and were happy with her decision.
Despite its major flaw, not showing the reality of abortion, “Killing Girls,” is a must-see movie for pro-lifers and pro-choicers alike. It’s a well-done, haunting, sociological study.