Former Football Star Tackles Abortion
NFL veteran Benjamin Watson's new documentary takes an interview-heavy look at the debate over abortion.
Benjamin Watson is known primarily for his long career in the NFL, during which he played for the Cleveland Browns, the Baltimore Ravens, the New Orleans Saints, and won Super Bowl XXIX with the New England Patriots. But this May, Watson embarked on a completely different project: a feature documentary about the American abortion debate titled Divided Hearts of America. With a budget of less than $1 million (Watson is a partial financier of the project as well as executive director), the film features interviews with some thirty Americans from all sides of the abortion divide.
For anyone involved in the pro-life movement, there are a lot of familiar faces. There is Dr. Kathi Aultman, a former abortionist, describing the procedure she performed so many times in jarring terms: “Deflate the head by removing the brains.” Deflate the head? We meet Melissa Ohden, who survived soaking in saline for days in her mother’s womb and then was born alive, making up that small percentage of abortion survivors referred to in the industry as “the dreaded complication.” We hear from Ryan Bomberger, a pro-life activist who was conceived through rape and adopted into a multi-racial family. Each interview puts human faces and stories to the shouted slogans of the abortion debate.
Most of the pro-lifers Watson speaks to are African American, and unsurprisingly, he scores some big names. Former neurosurgeon and current U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson explains his evolution on the issue: “Initially with abortion, I just said live and let live. But the thing that really changed my mind on that is I was thinking about slavery. Slave owners thought that they owned people and that they had the right to do anything they wanted to them, including kill them. What if the abolitionists had said I don’t believe in it, but you can do anything you want?”
That, and discovering the brutality of abortion, which Carson described for Watson: “You push in a little device and it sucks the baby in and grinds the baby up and you see the blood and everything going through the tube.” Strong words for a sitting member of the president’s cabinet.
Watson himself doesn’t remember when he became passionate about the pro-life issue. “For much of my life I have been unsettled by any form of injustice occurring in society,” he told me in an interview. “Though [my wife and I] first started using our resources directly to support pregnancy centers and the men, women, and children they serve in recent years, we view this as a justice issue much like sex trafficking, racial injustice, and persecution, all of which we have been advocates against. Human beings made in the image of God, no matter their stage of development, ethnicity, or location, should be protected and honored as such. There is not life among us that is more vulnerable than that which resides in the womb.”
Watson’s very public anti-abortion stance—he spoke at the 2017 March for Life while playing for the Baltimore Ravens—has been generally well-received. “I have received mostly positive feedback and inquisition from those in the NFL community,” he told me. “We are a diverse collection of individuals with myriad backgrounds and beliefs but a strong sense of mutual respect. I’ve had several conversations with people who agree and others who are opposed. I’m thankful for them all. There are many people in all walks of life, from Hollywood to the halls of Congress, who are opposed to abortion but feel silenced. In America, this should not be.”
Watson also interviewed several abortion advocates, including two New York legislators who voted for the Reproductive Health Act which legalized abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy. Liz Kruger of Manhattan, one of the co-sponsors, informed Watson that those highlighting the availability of abortion after viability are disingenuous, as those procedures would only be legal for health reasons. She paused when Watson asks her if “health” is defined in the bill, thought about it for a moment, and then replied: “No.” So there you have it, then. Gustavo Rivera, a legislator from the Bronx, responded to several of Watson’s questions by insisting that pro-lifers do not care about children after birth. When Watson interviewed Tim Scott, the South Carolina senator scoffed at the assertion: “I’ll commit to being worried about the child after is born—how about you just let it be born?”
Nearly every interview contains breathtaking moments, from Dr. Alveda King’s description of how Martin Luther King Sr. intervened to prevent her mother from aborting her, to Gustavo Rivera stumbling over his words to incoherently defend ending the lives of children in the womb: “When the child is born, then the child is a child.” One young woman told Watson what happened to her when she went to get an abortion: “I felt like something was being ripped out of me. She kept scraping because she said she needed to get everything out…She had forceps and she pulled the last bit out and she literally grabbed it out of the forceps and threw it on the table and said well, just so you know, it was a girl.”
Many of the interviewees told Watson that they believe the abortion debate is tearing America apart at the seams. Watson posed the question to Ben Carson directly: “Will this issue wreck us? Are we headed for a cliff?” Carson’s response was blunt: “Yes. If we don’t do the right thing, absolutely.” When I asked Watson if he felt the same way, he responded: “I believe that any issue that impacts life is one that has the propensity to tear a country apart.” Divided Hearts of America is his attempt to begin a conversation and trigger a dialogue among activists from all sides.
“I believe that this debate must be addressed from a multitude of angles, and the current siloed approach will only serve to increase a tension that will ultimately continue to be a disservice to all sides, but most importantly, to the women and children at the center of the debate,” he told me. “I hope pro-choice and pro-life Americans will leave this documentary with a different understanding of abortion.”
Anyone who takes the time to watch Divided Hearts of America certainly will.
Jonathon Van Maren is a public speaker, writer, and pro-life activist. His commentary has appeared in National Review, The European Conservative, the National Post, and elsewhere. Jonathon is the author of The Culture War and Seeing Is Believing: Why Our Culture Must Face the Victims of Abortion as well as the co-author with Blaise Alleyne of A Guide to Discussing Assisted Suicide.