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Medical Group Cites Flaws in 'Silent Scream,' Response

December 03, 1985|ELIZABETH MEHREN | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — In "Silent Scream," the controversial anti-abortion film, and a response film prepared by the Seattle-King County chapter of Planned Parenthood, science was used "inappropriately," the American Medical Assn.'s Council on Scientific Affairs has decided.

Both films, the council said, "appear to be designed to solicit emotional reactions rather than to clarify scientific issues."

"Our conclusion," said Dr. William Hendee, the AMA's vice president for science and technology, "was that in both films, the statements that were presented were really inconsistent with the scientific data that would speak to those issues.

"As a consequence," Hendee said, "we felt that not only could we not support or back either of the films, but in fact they were somewhat overcharged emotionally rather than having the basis in science that they could have had."

While declining to offer specific examples of the misuse of science, Dr. William McGivney, acting secretary of the council on scientific affairs, said his group of 12 clinicians "felt both films could have been better used to provide a good delineation of the issues that arise from the abortion question."

Findings Criticized

Said McGivney: "The bottom line is that science was used inappropriately."

At American Portrait Films in Anaheim, the company that produced "Silent Scream," distribution director Don Tanner dismissed the AMA's assessment, calling it "a very inaccurate statement to serve their own purposes.

"Those that were involved" in issuing the evaluation of the two films, Tanner said, "obviously were pro-choice abortionists who had their own ax to grind. I would say categorically that every one of those panelists who made that decision are probably pro-choice and probably very much involved in the abortion question.

"Many of the charges that were leveled against the film were obviously an attempt to discredit the film on the part of those who have the most to gain from discrediting it--namely, those who are making millions of dollars each year from performing abortions."

Tanner said, "There are many doctors who belong to the AMA who are pro-life, or anti-abortion, and they would categorically disagree with (the council on scientific affairs') statement."

Science was "definitely used appropriately" in "Silent Scream," Tanner said, and any charge to the contrary was "a definitely partisan statement on the part of the AMA."

Tanner made reference also to a statement issued July 1 by the California Medical Assn., citing "medical inaccuracies" in "Silent Scream."

"It's the same rhetoric," Tanner said. "They are picking out certain points to discredit, and a lot of it is petty. I don't believe these medical people, the AMA and CMA, are being completely honest when they make these charges."

In Seattle, family physician Dr. Jack Leversee, a member of the medical advisory committee to the Seattle-King County chapter of Planned Parenthood, conceded that "the social science part" of "A Response," the film that group made to counter "Silent Scream," "might contain some emotionally laden areas." But the medical portions of the response film, Leversee said, "I think are very straightforward science."

Leversee, one of six physicians and social scientists who appear in the Planned Parenthood film, said that in preparing the response film, he screened "Silent Scream" before a group of physicians who included a pediatrics embryologist, neonatologists, "radiology people with their subbranch of ultrasonography" and "people in obstetrics and gynecology."

Reviewing "Silent Scream" point by point, Leversee said, "The feeling of everyone there was that there were just too many inaccuracies, that the film wasn't really a scientific presentation--that it was a propaganda film, quite cleverly done.

"So my part of the response was to bring that message to the film that we were asked to make."

'Political Statement'

Of the AMA's criticism of "Silent Scream" and the response film, Leversee said, "It sounds more like a political statement than a scientific statement. That sort of statement often comes out of a big organization that needs to represent all sides of its membership. I'm sorry that that happens, but that's just the nature of such things."

At AMA headquarters in Chicago, William Hendee said the matter would be discussed at the organization's interim meeting Sunday in Washington.

Hendee said he was disappointed to offer the appraisal that "neither film was well grounded scientifically."

"From our viewpoint," he said, "whatever we look for, we try to make sure it is firmly grounded in scientific fact. We are always disappointed when something that is used to give information to the public is not well grounded."

Viewers, Hendee said, "are being manipulated by the presentation of information that is either not well-grounded or even distorted."

Balking at labeling his assessment an indictment, Hendee said that "it's certainly not a statement of support.

"Unfortunately, each side has produced a document that was an effort to further a cause rather than to look at the issue in the most scientific way possible.

"It's not uncommon, unfortunately."

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