Casting the First Stone

Set against the background of the Supreme Court’s historic decisions on women's reproductive rights, this documentary looks at the abortion controversy through the eyes of six women activists on both sides of the barricades in Paoli, PA. CASTING THE FIRST STONE focuses on six women who regularly confront each other from opposite sides of the picket line. Three believe that abortion should be an inalienable right. The other three believe it constitutes murder. Shelley Miller, director of a Paoli, PA women's health clinic, endures constant harassment from anti-abortion groups camped outside the clinic's doors. Joan Scalia, a Catholic and mother of six, defies her husband to join the most audacious of these anti-abortion groups called Operation Rescue. Sharon Owens, a clinic counselor, minister's wife and adoptive mother of three, is closer to the middle. She cannot decide when human life "begins," but feels a religious obligation as a Christian "to be in the place where hard decisions are being made." Chronicling the daily lives of these and other women, director Julie Gustafson visits anti-abortion blockades, counseling sessions, a visit with a young mother whom protestors persuaded to have her baby, and Planned Parenthood's emergency board meetings following the Supreme Court's 1989 Webster v. Missouri decision that allowed states to deny some of the protections set by Roe v. Wade. Appearances include Randall Terry of Operation Rescue, Bill Baird, a longtime pro-choice activist and Faye Wattleton of Planned Parenthood. CASTING THE FIRST STONE makes clear that the conflict over abortion is not just political but also about the role and the rights of women in society. Clinic counselors, shaped by first wave feminist activism of the 1960s and 70s argue they are not promoting abortion but are "providing women with choices." Other pro-life women reply, "You know what offends me about feminists? They say they are speaking for me."

05:23Copy video clip URL Women’s Suburban Clinic. Paoli, PA. Text introduction to Roe vs. Wade background. A police officer conducts a scan of the Paoli abortion clinic.

05:54Copy video clip URL Title. Introduction to Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion organization. Randall Terry, director of Operation Rescue, announces instructions for their blockade of the Paoli clinic.

06:22Copy video clip URL Shelly Miller, Clinic Administrator of the Paoli Women’s Suburban Clinic denounces the blockade to a gaggle of press cameras in front of the clinic. A religious leader and a community member debate outside the clinic.

07:10Copy video clip URL Interview with Randall Terry. Chester county police arrest a woman with Operation Rescue.

07:32Copy video clip URL Interview with Frances Sheehan, director of the National Abortion Rights Action League, PA. Sheehan focuses on the impact of such anti-abortion demonstrations on the clinic staff and patients.

07:53Copy video clip URL The blockading activists sing the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

08:10Copy video clip URL “Portraits of Women and Men on Both Sides of the Abortion War.” Portrait of Sharon Owens, staff counselor at the Paoli clinic. Owens conducts a counseling session with “Mona.”

09:43Copy video clip URL Local anti-abortion activist Joan Scalia. Shelly Miller confronts Scalia about Scalia’s attempts to “convert” Miller and the right ethical action in deliberating the debate over abortion.

10:52Copy video clip URL Back in Owens’s session with Mona. Mona asks if the fetus can feel pain.

11:34Copy video clip URL Local anti-abortion activist Debbie Baker. Baker and Scalia debate with Miller over the “personhood” of a fetus and the rights of that fetus compared to the woman who carries that fetus.

12:23Copy video clip URL Mona and Owens discuss the alternatives to abortion offered by the anti-abortion protestors and the short-term and long-term considerations of carrying a fetus to birth.

12:59Copy video clip URL Miller argues to the anti-abortion activists why they should first try to stop the “social evils” that lead women to get an abortion in the first place. Local anti-abortion activist Alberta Fay Horrocks disputes the idea that poverty should lead to abortion. Baker says that women can just make the choice not to have sex.

13:46Copy video clip URL “Joan.” A home portrait of Joan Scalia, homemaker and mother of six. Joan reflects on her debates with staff at the Paoli clinic, saying that, because each side approaches the issue from such a different framework, “we’re really not even communicating with one another.” She feels concerned that advocates for abortion access do not understand or recognize her point of view. Ben Scalia, Joan’s husband, says that he’s from “the old school.” Ben thinks Joan’s activism hurts her cause when they get arrested. Joan reflects on the futility of writing letters to legislatures and how Operation Rescue offered a distinct way to get things happening. Joan and Ben discuss how they negotiate their marriage alongside Joan’s activism.

16:28Copy video clip URL At the office of the Women’s Suburban Clinic in Paoli, which provides educational, counseling, and gynecological services in addition to abortions up to thirteen weeks after conception. Miller explains the history and vision of the clinic, which opened in 1973 shortly after Roe v. Wade. Miller leads a support group for women where they talk about the impact of the protestors on their lives. Owens describes her conflicted feelings of being a Christian and still wanting to support women’s access to abortion.

18:30Copy video clip URL “Sharon.” Portrait of Sharon Owens. Owens helps set the dinner table for her family and recites a prayer before eating, petitioning for a cut to the United States’ defense budget. The wife of a Christian minister, Owens says that her calling as a Christian is to be present when the hardest decisions are made. Speculating that if Jesus were present with the anti-abortion protestors, Owens cites John chapter 8, verse 7 where Jesus says to a crowd wishing to condemn a woman who had committed adultery that anyone who is without sin may cast the first stone. Owens says, “They can’t take that kind of Christianity away from me.”

20:01Copy video clip URL An anti-abortion protestor tries to persuade women entering the Women’s Suburban Clinic to reconsider their decisions. They say that physicians believe a fetus can feel pain at eight weeks.

20:28Copy video clip URL “Alberta.” Portrait of anti-abortion activist Alberta Fay Horrocks. Izelia Pollard sits down with Horrocks and recalls her experience of why she decided not to have an abortion. Horrocks explains how she goes once a week to the clinic to do “sidewalk counseling” to have women consider alternatives to abortion. Pollard says how the group with Operation Rescue offered her support to bring her child to term.

21:57Copy video clip URL Late Summer, 1988. Northeast Women’s Center, Philadelphia, PA. Footage of another Operation Rescue blockade. Cut to a meeting with members of the National Abortion Rights Action League watching a local news broadcast of the Operation Rescue blockade. Director Frances Sheehan watches her interview aired on public television. Miller reviews her clinic’s response to the blockade and Sheehan talks about how to respond to the press garnered by the anti-abortion protests.

23:37Copy video clip URL “Debbie.” Debbie Baker is a mother who home schools her children. She wants to teach them the “Christian values” that she believes is systematically left out of the public school curriculum. She believes too much value is given to worldly pursuits like material wealth and status and instead seeks to value the riches of relationships and spiritual well being.

25:17Copy video clip URL “Shelley.” Shelley Miller enjoys time at the beach with her family. She describes being influenced by growing up during the cultural and political movements of the 1960s and 70s. Shelley conveys her hopes for her daughter’s futures where they will have the economic and political freedom to make their own choices and come to their own decisions.

26:20Copy video clip URL Debbie criticizes feminists for presuming to speak for all women. Patrick Baker, Debbie’s husband, describes both the blessings and sacrifices of having Debbie home school their children and work as a stay-at-home mother. Debbie says their acceptance of this traditional way of living contrasts with the cultural norm of having a two-income household. Her motivation is to have the greatest impact on raising their children as part of the future generation.

27:35Copy video clip URL “Election Eve, 1988.” Footage of a radio broadcast “Voices for the Unborn,” part of “Radio for the Unborn” with host Father Roland Slobogin and guests Dennis O’Brien, a Republican member of the Pennsylvania state legislature, and Mary Beliveau of the Pro-Life Federation of Pennsylvania. Slobogin and the show’s staff play a tape recording of then-vice president George H. W. Bush giving a talk on July 22, 1988 to the National Right to Life Committee. Bush advocates for a constitutional amendment to overturn Roe v. Wade, giving states the decision to ban abortion and prohibiting federal money for abortion, along with a “human life” amendment. Beliveau says that it is “just a matter of time” before Roe v. Wade will be overturned by using upcoming vacancies to the Supreme Court to nominate conservative justices. O’Brien says that the moral agenda of pro-life advocates is the issue of the upcoming election.

29:02Copy video clip URL “Frances.” Frances Sheehan calls voters for Karen Ritter’s reelection campaign to the state house of representatives in Pennsylvania. With Ritter present at the office, Sheehan laments that voters are not taking the election seriously. Sheehan views the push to make abortion illegal as part of a conservative reaction to women becoming more active in the public sphere.

30:12Copy video clip URL CBS Evening News with Dan Rather broadcasts in the Owens’ living room.

30:32Copy video clip URL Joan Scalia describes the integral role faith has played in her life, how she lost her mother when she was two and a half years-old, and raised by Catholic nuns. Joan describes why she agrees with the Catholic church’s dominant views on sex and contraceptives, despite the “rhythm method” (also known as Natural Family Planning), and its intention to not let women become reduced to sexual objects.

31:56Copy video clip URL Teen Chastity Program at the YWCA in Westchester, PA. Alberta Horrocks, community volunteer at the YWCA and mother of three, speaks to a group of teenagers about contrasting societal views on dating and relationships. Horrocks says that she developed the six week Teen Chastity Program to oppose Planned Parenthood’s sex education. In place of contraceptives, Horrocks advocates for abstinence. She and a group of female teenagers talk about the role of women in society, reasons for and against abortion, and sexual ethics.

34:11Copy video clip URL Frances Sheehan talks with her husband Ricardo Gelman in their home living room. They are expecting their first child and Sheehan and her husband reflect on what it means to prepare for a child at this point in their lives, how it compares with the experiences of other women they see in a hospital or clinic setting, the value they place on developing life and motherhood, and the contradictions of denying women the freedom to choose whether or not they want to give birth to a child.

36:15Copy video clip URL April 26, 1989. Outside the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., a news reporter highlights the upcoming decision for Webster v. Reproductive Health Services.

36:29Copy video clip URL Press conference with Randall Terry at the New York Hilton, describing efforts by pro-life activists to influence the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

37:39Copy video clip URL In Paoli, Shelley Miller talks with Dr. Stephen Ellen, co-founder of the Women’s Suburban Clinic. Dr. Ellen refutes the correlation between the legal status of abortion and its outcome on the number of abortions. Dr. Ellen says, “The only thing we’ve done by making abortion legal in this country in 1973 is make it safe.” He says that the pro-life rhetoric has no effect on people who want to have an abortion, recalling the desperate and harmful attempts he has seen women make in the past when they do not have access to a safe and legal place to get an abortion.

38:46Copy video clip URL July 3, 1989. Day of decision in the case of Webster v. Reproductive Health Services. Activists argue outside the Supreme Court building. Faye Wattleton, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, speaks outside the Supreme Court building in the wake of the Court’s decision that life begins at conception. Activists get arrested. Randall Terry speaks in favor of the Court’s decision. Terry says, “Roe is gonna go down, there’s no question about it.”

40:43Copy video clip URL Emergency meeting at Planned Parenthood in Philadelphia, PA. Planned Parenthood leaders consider worst case scenarios if Roe v. Wade is overturned, debating various civil disobedience tactics.

42:38Copy video clip URL Pro-life activists, including Alberta Horrocks, meet with Pennsylvania state senator Earl M. Baker in his office. Horrocks contemplates the justness of abortion, even in cases of rape.

44:20Copy video clip URL At the Northeast Women’s Center. In a women’s group meeting, Shelley Miller talks about the impact of pro-life rhetoric on women who walk into their clinic. Sharon Owens opens up about her own infertility and how she wrestles every day between the alternatives of abortion and adoption. At home, Owens shows baby pictures of the children adopted by her and her husband, and recalls stories from their adoption and the indescribable gratitude she felt toward being able to raise those children.

47:21Copy video clip URL Joan Scalia with her daughter Patty. They both express their belief that God will support expecting mothers through any potential hardships or difficulties.

48:52Copy video clip URL Frances Sheehan enters Childspace Day Care Center to pick up her daughter Julia, born three months prior. Sheehan considers if she wants to resume full-time work.

51:02Copy video clip URL Alberta visits a single mother who has recently given birth to a third child. The young woman talks about her current financial difficulties. Alberta asks if she has reconsidered going back to school. She says that she hasn’t given school a thought given her current situation. “I’m going back to work,” she says. With Alberta’s counsel, she says that she had not considered abortion and does not recommend it for anyone, but, she says, “It’s people’s choice.”

53:37Copy video clip URL In their living room with their children, Debbie and Patrick Baker watch news coverage of Pennsylvania’s Abortion Control Act. “This’ll have the greatest chance at protecting the most children. And women,” Debbie says. The Baker’s set the dinner table and pray over their meal.

54:35Copy video clip URL At the Pro-Choice march in Washington D.C. in April 1989, where about 600,000 demonstrators attended. Faye Wattleton, president of Planned Parenthood, speaks to supporters of abortion rights. Footage of Sharon Owens and Frances Sheehan at the demonstration. Owens reflects on witnessing the support of women around the country, being pro-choice and not pro-abortion, and the long-haul work of legislative and social change.

55:45Copy video clip URL Joan Scalia and Alberta Horrocks attend the All Women’s Operation Rescue blockade at Planned Parenthood in Philadelphia, PA. Horrocks reflects how others accuse Operation Rescue of “casting stones” but, she says, “I believe we are justified by the lives we save.” A city official announces the demonstrators have ten minutes to vacate their blockade, otherwise they will face arrest. Police begin arresting people in the blockade. Scalia chooses to leave the protest because getting arrested would violate her husband’s wishes. “I won’t get arrested until he is comfortable with that decision,” she says.

58:11Copy video clip URL Title card explains a Spring 1991 ruling by the Supreme Court and with several pending cases before the Court, the likelihood that the future of Roe v. Wade is in doubt.

58:32Copy video clip URL Credits. Audio overlay of Sharon Owens in session with a client.

59:31Copy video clip URL Footage of the counseling session.

59:43Copy video clip URL End of tape.

 

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