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  • Writer's pictureDoctors for Choice

About That "Silent Scream"

Updated: Nov 23, 2021

The Silent Scream, an anti-abortion propaganda film produced in the mid-1980s, continues to be used by anti-choice individuals to dramatise abortion and portray it as an inhumane procedure that should be banned. It is also used to traumatise children across schools in Malta.

The film is riddled with medical, scientific, and legal untruths, and it focuses entirely on the fetus in an attempt to move the focus away from the needs of women seeking abortions. In fact, no attention is given during the film to the woman who needed the abortion in the first place.

Abortion procedures have also changed considerably since the time the film was produced, and most abortions nowadays happen by using pills at home before the embryo is large enough to be even seen.

The protagonist in the film is a 12 week fetus that is visualised supposedly flinching against abortion instruments and screaming during a ultrasound-guided surgical procedure. Here are some of the major untruths of the film:

The film implies that a 12 week fetus is capable of conscious sensation and feeling pain. Through studies conducted by authoritative bodies including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, we know that brain connections necessary for feeling pain do not develop before 24 weeks gestation.

The film implies that a 12 week fetus is capable of purposeful movements. This is untrue. At 12 weeks the fetus is not capable of consciously perceiving anything and all movements are reflex in nature. It is certainly not capable of "frantic activity" as described in the film.

The film shows the open mouth of a 12 week fetus on ultrasound. At 12 weeks the open mouth of a fetus is not visible on ultrasound.

The fetus emits a "silent scream." A 12 week fetus does not have formed lungs and certainly does not have any air in them to emit a scream. A 12 week fetus does not even display involuntary respiratory movements.

"Crushing instruments" are used to crush the fetus's head before it can be extracted. This is certainly not required in abortions at 12 weeks. Up until approximately 14 weeks, a suction cannula is all that is needed to extract the pregnancy.

The 12 week fetus is referred to as a child. At that stage of development the fetus does not have developed organs, and is nowhere close to being able to live independently outside the womb.

The film claims that "brain waves" are present from 6 weeks. Genuine brain waves begin in the third trimester of pregnancy, when the fetus is capable of surviving outside the womb.

The film claims that many women who have abortion suffer severe psychological distress. This is untrue. Studies have shown that the vast majority (over 95%) of women who have abortion have no regrets and the minority who do improve over time.

This is by far not an exhaustive list of inaccuracies, bias, and lies in the film, and those interested in knowing more can read the white paper issued by Planned Parenthood about the Silent Scream here.

The Silent Scream has been shown in Maltese schools for decades and this practice must end. The film misrepresents abortion and fuels stigma, to the detriment of women in Malta who need abortions and have had abortions. It would be more beneficial for children to receive evidence-based scientific sexual education to help prevent unwanted pregnancies, coupled with improved access to contraception. And regardless of how abortion is portrayed, there will always be a need for abortion services, and therefore abortion should be legal and regulated like any other medical procedure.


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