To seriously consider “Roe v. Wade” — that is, writer-directors Cathy Allyn and Nick Loeb’s atrocious anti-abortion propaganda piece and not the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision in favor of abortion rights — it is helpful to remember a 2017 quote by journalist Chuck Todd. “Alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods,” Todd succinctly said when confronting Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway on her use of the term. While the Trump era that Conway’s expression sums up is behind us, “Roe v. Wade” has reportedly been in the works for the past three years, so it’s fair to reflect on the baffling film as a product of that period, when right-wing fabrications were routinely presented as truth.
Targeting politically simpatico viewers and anyone they can convert on the other side of the aisle — while perhaps taking a page out of the former administration’s playbook — Allyn and Loeb present their own “alternative facts” as a definitive account of the famous court case, asserting that what we have been told about Roe v. Wade is a big lie. Far from impartial, their revisionist telling amounts to a sometimes sexist smear campaign, executed with roughly the competence of a cheaply assembled infomercial as it exploits religious guilt to disgrace a legal medical procedure.
Here is how the duo’s version of the historic ruling goes: Future anti-abortion activist and NARAL co-founder Dr. Bernard Nathanson (played by Loeb, as inept at acting as he is at directing) started out as a money-crazed opportunist, raking in cash by performing abortions. In poorly paced chronological segments and flashbacks, punctuated by overdone freeze-frames, his dull voiceover narrates the sequence of events that introduce us to attorneys Sarah Weddington (Greer Grammer) and Linda Coffee (Justine Wachsberger).
These two are portrayed as gullible, hungry pawns who are made to use the vulnerable, pregnant small-town girl Norma “Jane Roe” McCorvey (Summer Joy Campbell) for their agenda. The unsuspecting pair are baited by Nathanson and his fellow abortion backer Larry Lader (Jamie Kennedy) in a moneymaking conspiracy that turns abortions into a cash cow, a ploy that also involves activist and “The Feminine Mystique” author Betty Friedan (Lucy Davenport), presented here as a naive villain with limited smarts. Meanwhile, to amplify the credibility of their mission, Lader and Nathanson systematically fabricate abortion-favoring stats and feed them to the media in order to sway the public. Hollywood eats it all up and offers its precious backing. Per the filmmakers, everyone was in on the scam.
In short, the film claims that the abortion-rights movement was a well-funded and rigged branding campaign. And some Supreme Court justices (played by Jon Voight and Steve Guttenberg, among others), the directors allege, were consequently pressured both by the media and their families to rule in favor of abortion. In court, one judge — namely Sarah T. Hughes of Texas — is apparently so biased that she can’t help winking at Weddington and Coffee to indicate they’ve got the verdict in the bag. Meanwhile, God-fearing wholesome people on the anti-abortion end stand their ground with courage, including Harvard-educated Christian doctor Mildred Jefferson (Stacy Dash, agonizingly unimaginative) and law professor Robert Byrn (Joey Lawrence), who speaks in manipulative conservative-bumper-sticker messages and dares to ask his students whether they’d abort Beethoven due to his deafness.
Throughout, Allyn and Loeb use cheap tricks and insinuation to prop up their swelling piles of falsities, as when they defame Planned Parenthood’s mission by associating it with its founder Margaret Sanger’s belief in racial eugenics, despite the fact that the organization had already distanced itself from Sanger. At times, the filmmakers attempt to outrage the audience by shock, such as a police raid in which cops carry buckets of bloody baby parts out of an abortion clinic, or a shot of crusty cheese peeling off a slice of pizza intended to represent what an abortion looks like. But these unfortunate scenes feel more insensitive than eye-opening.
It doesn’t help the movie’s case that Allyn and Loeb’s impassioned “we’re going to blow the lid off this thing” attitude isn’t matched by professional filmmaking, but spectacular incompetence. The amateur-hour acting features too many hilarious emotional outbursts by Loeb, plus short appearances by such far-right figures as Tomi Lahren, Milo Yiannopoulos (in an especially tasteless scene sketched to dehumanize abortion-rights doctors) and even “My Pillow Guy” Mike Lindell. The cinematography lacks compositional intuition or original ideas, beyond “well, the ’70s looked very orange,” while haphazard editing interrupts the narrative rhythm.
Like-minded audiences may look past all that, while others will find themselves wondering if “Roe v. Wade,” which can be inadvertently amusing at times, might have been intended as a political satire in the “Borat” vein. This suspicion only intensifies when a bunch of characters, led by Loeb, break into a song that goes, “There’s a fortune in abortion. Just a twist of the wrist, and you’re through. There’s a gold mine in the sex line. Not only rabbits have those habits.” Ideologically scheming and visually inelegant, this is truly tacky stuff.