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How Roe v. Wade Came Under Attack Before | The Last Abortion Clinic (full documentary)

04 May 2022
How, despite “Roe v. Wade,” anti-abortion advocates successfully led campaigns to pass multiple state laws limiting access to abortion — with efforts in Mississippi as a blueprint. (From 2005)

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In the summer of 2005, more than 30 years after Roe v. Wade established access to abortion services as a fundamental right, a FRONTLINE documentary team spent two months traveling across the South, where states had been particularly active in passing restrictions on abortion.

"The assault on abortion rights is very clever. It's very smart. And we are losing," one anonymous abortion provider said in the resulting documentary.

In interviews with abortion providers and their patients, with staff at an anti-abortion pregnancy counseling center, and with key legal strategists on both sides of the national debate, producer Raney Aronson-Rath documented the success of the anti-abortion movement and the growing number of states with regulations limiting access to abortion. The documentary traced that success back to how anti-abortion advocates seized on Planned Parenthood v. Casey — the 1992 Supreme Court decision that upheld Roe v. Wade but changed the standard by which abortion laws were judged.

“Their tactics changed,” Betty Thompson, former director of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Mississippi’s last abortion clinic, told FRONTLINE of the anti-abortion movement’s response to Casey. “They began to see: ‘We have political clout now. And so while we have this power, we’re going to chip away at Roe v. Wade until the law is going to be on the books, but nobody will be able to access the service.'”

The documentary explored how Mississippi was a model for the anti-abortion movement’s efforts.

“Mississippi has an impressive track record,” Clarke Forsythe, senior legal counsel for Americans United for Life, told FRONTLINE. “Our goal is to see that other states pass the type of legislation that Mississippi has passed over the past decade, and we see a lot of legislative activity.”

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FRONTLINE is produced at GBH in Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional support for FRONTLINE is provided by the Abrams Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Park Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation; and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation, and additional support from Koo and Patricia Yuen.
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