Will we decide to love each other enough to mend our divided hearts?” This is one of the last lines from a recent documentary, one all the more relevant in the still-roiling wake of the election. Divided Hearts of America, which is currently streaming online, follows former NFL player Benjamin Watson as he takes on one of the major issues driving our polarization—abortion. The result is a testament to the power of presence and patience in an era of vitriol.
Watson talks with subjects across the political spectrum. He has been outspoken in his faith-based advocacy for the unborn, and so it is not surprising that pro-lifers dominate the on-screen roster. The most interesting moments, however, are Watson’s interactions with staunch supporters of abortion rights.
On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade in 2019, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo lit One World Trade Center pink to celebrate passage of New York’s Reproductive Health Act. Though he was happy to proclaim his support for abortion rights from the tallest tower in Manhattan, Cuomo declined to sit down with Watson. Two New York state senators did, though, and when Watson speaks with them his demeanor is calm but his questions direct. “When does a person get rights?” he asks Sen. Gustavo Rivera. “When a person’s a person,” replies Rivera tautologically. Watson smoothly delivers the obvious follow-up. Rivera then declares there should be no rights before birth, clarifying in stark terms the brutal logic of the left.
Responding to a question about common ground, Sen. Liz Krueger offers that “we could agree that when a baby’s born we want to do everything possible to make sure there’s a healthy outcome for that baby and that mother.” The film, though, highlights the reticence of some of Krueger’s fellow Democrats to agree, noting the failure of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act in the United States Senate.
While the editing is done in a standard documentary point/counter-point style, all participants—including the pro-abortion figures—are given ample time to present their perspectives. The stories are powerful. We hear from a woman who survived an abortion and then a post-abortion attempt at infanticide. A former abortionist tells of her realization that “I killed a lot more people than Ted Bundy.” A young woman discusses her own time on the table and the doctor who said, “Well, just so you know, it was a girl,” as she tossed a hunk of flesh to the side.
The effort is a well-produced primer presenting the sort of factual but uncomfortable information that too many ignore. Without sensationalism, the film reports on the hundreds of thousands of abortions annually performed in America and the physical techniques used to dismember children in the womb. The film also covers a wide breadth of abortion-related issues, from the impact on mothers and fathers to rape and matters of race.
Discussions of slavery, eugenics, and Margaret Sanger’s “Negro Project” pack an even greater punch when coming from someone like Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King Jr., or a physician like Dr. Ben Carson, who has operated on a small person in the womb who grew into a thankful adult. Others, including Dr. Monique Ruberu, James Sherley, Sen. Tim Scott, and Louisiana State Sen. Katrina Jackson (a Democrat) share their expertise and belie the notion that the pro-life movement is exclusively the domain of white Republicans. Liberals like commentator Roland Martin also share their thoughts, and take some advocates for the unborn to task for failing to support government programs supporting women and children. Through it all, Watson does something our society is forgetting how to do. He listens more than he talks.
Abortion remains the great fissure in American politics. It has turned Supreme Court nominations into intense proxy wars, and oddly provided the best reason to send a man of dubious character to the White House in 2016. Today, after a national vote that produced a split decision emblematic of a split nation, Divided Hearts of America invites conversations rather than condemnations. It is the sad tale of one of our nation’s greatest sins, but it will not allow the viewer to mourn as one who has no hope.
After retiring at the end of last season, the former tight end no longer catches touchdowns from Tom Brady. Some wonder whether Watson might follow other football players like Jack Kemp and Steve Largent into politics. For now, the father of seven advocates for a range of biblical justice issues that transcend today’s political labels. With Divided Hearts of America, he has given us a cinematic labor of love and an example worth emulating. The most memorable play of Watson’s impressive 15-year career in the NFL was a come-from-behind tackle against incredible odds. Trying to change hearts and minds on abortion might seem a pointless exercise to many, but Watson has proven he is not one for giving up.
John Murdock is an attorney who writes from Boise, Idaho.
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