Maintaining humanity and connection despite deeply held opposing positions has long been the friction of the reproductive rights discussion. On Sunday, Jan. 28, First Parish in Needham will screen the film “The Abortion Talks: Fostering Dialogue Across the Divides,” followed by a panel discussion examining whether a civil conversation between supporters on opposite sides of the abortion debate is really possible.  

The film is based on the true story of John Salvi, an abortion opponent who shot and killed two staff members and wounded five other persons at two Brookline women’s health clinics in 1994, more than 20 years after Roe v. Wade. Salvi was sentenced to life in prison without parole and died in 1996, in what was ruled a suicide. In response to the uproar over the shootings, six leaders of the area anti-abortion and abortion-rights movements began secret talks, supposedly initiated by Gov. William Weld and Cardinal Bernard Law. Five years later, after 150 hours of dialogue, the six leaders went public. 

J&S Ltd, the husband-and-wife filmmaking team of Josh Sabey and Sarah Perkins, were camera operators, co-directors, and co-editors of the film, which has been screened around the country and viewed more than a million times. The documentary incorporates archival footage, newspaper stories, documents and re-enactments. 

Dr. Tracy Zinner, chair of the Reproductive Justice Task Force at First Parish, said their group was formed following the 2022 Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade, and in the context of growing limitations to reproductive rights throughout the U.S. “Our hope in showing this film is to promote productive dialogue about how to foster respect and prevent violence,” she said.   

Three of the original participants in the talks will be present as a panel and to respond to questions.

In addition to First Parish, event sponsors include Temple Beth Shalom, At My Neighbors Table, Needham Human Rights Committee, Progressive Needham, the League of Women Voters, and the Needham High School Social and Political Activism Club.      

The in-person film screening and panel discussion, from 4 to 7:30 p.m., are free and open to the public. To attend, register at Eventbrite.

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