Raney Aronson

Aronson was a filmmaker in her early 30s who ran a production company called A Little Rain Productions in New York City. Aronson had been working on documentaries since 1996—first for ABC television—and went out on her own in January 2002 with a contract to produce a documentary for Frontline. Her preferred subjects were issues with two strongly opposed, yet equally compelling, sides. “That’s really the thing I love the most, going into something with my eyes open and having two sides presented,” she says.[5]

Her first Frontline project was an investigation of alternative medicine, which aired in November 2003. That was quickly followed by two reports for Frontline/World: a June 2003 report from India about traveling theater companies, and a June 2004 piece on India’s AIDS crisis seen through the eyes of sex workers. Aronson’s second full-length Frontline documentary was The Jesus Factor, which explored the role religion had played in the life and career of President George W. Bush, as well as the growing political influence of the country’s 70 million evangelical Christians. The film aired in April 2004. “I was so impressed,” says Fanning, “by the rigor of her work on The Jesus Factor, and her really sharp eye on the journalistic standards.”

By the end of 2004, she was looking for another project.[6] Aronson had been struck, in researching The Jesus Factor, by how important the abortion issue was to evangelical Christians. She was eager to explore the topic further. In November 2004, she and Fanning sat down to talk about the possibility of taking a new look at abortion.

Abortion as subject. Abortion was a tricky subject. It had divided US public opinion since before the historic 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision gave women legal access to abortion. The court decision had hardly settled matters. If anything, it galvanized conservatives, who for a while resorted to violence against abortion clinics and doctors. But by 2004, the pro-life movement—as it called itself—had revised its strategy, preferring to work at the state level to restrict the availability of abortion.

Fanning thought the time could be ripe to look at where the pro-life strategy had led. “Abortion had become such an issue in the Bush years, and there was the rise of evangelicals, and then the very real chance of change in the Supreme Court,” he recalls. Eight of nine Supreme Court justices were over 65, and one was seriously ill. President George W. Bush was in a position to realign the court in a conservative direction, with consequences likely to last for decades.

Aronson was enthusiastic, and agreed to pursue the abortion debate as a documentary topic. “It was just an opportunity I jumped on,” she says.

That’s how it works a lot. If you really want to do something, and you have enough passion about it, and there’s a good story there, generally that’s a combination that works here.

The first challenge would be finding the right angle, an approach both visually and intellectually engaging. Hopefully, that would emerge during the research phase.

Footnotes

[5] Author’s interviews with Raney Aronson on July 5, August 13, and August 20, 2007. All further quotes from Aronson, unless otherwise attributed, are from these interviews.

[6] She was wrapping up another Frontline piece—The Soldier’s Heart, about the psychological after-effects of war— which ran in March 2005.