But Michael Bray, a church worker in Bowie who says he is supported by 10 Bowie pastors, wants the film shown in all the county's public schools. He said all students should see it at "just about the same age the kids are having abortions: 12 and up, sometimes lower. You might as well let them know."
The evaluation committee turned down Bray's request, as did the assistant superintendent for instruction and pupil services, Robert J. Shockley. Last week, Bray sent a written appeal to Prince George's Superintendent Edward J. Feeney and said he will bring his case to the school board, if Feeney rejects the film, and on to the state board of education and the courts, if necessary.
County school spokesman Brian J. Porter said no formal appeal process exists for applications such as Bray's. Feeney will seriously consider the request, he said, but added that the decisions made by the evaluation team and by Shockley would serve as "a very strong recommendation" for the film's rejection.
Members of the anti-abortionist Concerned Women for America in Anne Arundel County are watching Bray's efforts carefully. If he succeeds, unit chairwoman Myrtle Parlett said, her group will try to have the film shown in their county schools.
The film includes large color photographs of aborted and mangled fetuses, and a large plastic bag filled with fetuses. Two abortions are performed on camera. After one, a nurse holds the hand of a fetus lying on a bloody sheet and manipulates its fingers.
The school evaluation team decided it was too disturbing for students. "You're looking at a little human so it's a powerful thing," said Fenton, supervisor of health services in the schools. "But in a classroom setting, we have to consider the fact that some of the students may have already had abortions." The film could provoke a "traumatic response," she said.
"The school is not responsible for how someone reacts to truth," Bray said. "Its responsibility is to present truth. If an individual wants to leave, that's fine. It's not a reason to withhold truth."
Graphic films of traffic accidents are shown in driver education classes, Bray said, arguing that concerns about a "traumatic reaction" are invalid. "The so-called guilt is indeed a good possiblility," he said. He said the answer to this guilt lies in religion -- but religious sections of the film have been cut from the version submitted to the schools.
Shockley said no such graphic films are shown in the schools. A slide presentation called "Scared Stiff" shows accidents but not corpses, he said. The schools' film department is "trying to get away from the idea of overkill," he said.
Stephen Friedman, a Hyattsville lawyer who has represented pro-choice groups in several court cases in the county, said he was concerned about the effect films like "Assignment Life" could have on girls who had, or will have, abortions. "What happens if she has to have a therapeutic abortion because having that child would kill her?" he said. "Think of what it would do."
"It's an excellent film; of course it should be shown," said Ann Schutt, chairwoman of Prince George's chapter of Right to Life. "Even though it's graphic, it's true. The kids in high school are supposed to be learning."
While no schools in the Washington area show the film now, "Assignment Life" has been shown to about 5,000 girls in Alabama schools and colleges, according to Dale Cutlip, staff director of the Wales Goebel Ministries Inc. in Birmingham. Cutlip said his organization has been going into public schools and asking principals if they can show the film.
"We ask for a show of hands after each showing," he said. "There's a real change of heart." He said in most cases about 75 percent of those who have seen the film indicate they have changed their minds about abortion.
The head of the Birmingham schools media resources department, Dr. Geraldine Bell, said she had not heard of the film and did not know it was being shown in Birmingham schools. "They should come through us," she said. "We do have to approve films."
Prince George's schools have been asked to remove material on several occasions during the past 10 years, but this is the first time there has been a fight to include something. The film "The Lottery," for instance, was removed from the schools following an appeal to the school board. The film depicted a society which, through unquestioned custom, drew lots and stoned the loser to death.
"It has always been the other way around," Fenton said. "Parents objecting to its use. This is the only time we have had a film rejected officially."
Bray's efforts also pose a problem for the American Civil Liberties Union. The group supports a woman's right to have an abortion, but also supports the right of groups to disseminate information.
"The ACLU is in an interesting position," said Claire Bigelow, chairwoman of the Prince George's chapter. "We'd want to support all sides of the issue." She said she was worried the film "could be coercive in terms of a person's right to choose."
Working through education has become increasingly important for Prince George's anti-abortion groups, who have had two important decisions go against them in the last year. County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan's ban on abortions in county-owned hospitals was overturned in court last December as a result of an ACLU suit, and a County Council motion, which would have achieved the same result, was defeated at the beginning of September.
"I've seen that the solution is not something that is just a matter of legislation but a matter of education," Bray said. "So I'm hoping that kids can be exposed to the reality of abortion."
While not conceding defeat in the political arena, Schutt said not enough work has been done in the schools, and said she is pleased with Bray's efforts. Pat O'Keeffe, chairwoman of the Bowie chapter of the Right to Life group, said the pro-life point of view is consistently ignored by the schools, "but we're picking away at it." She said her group is willing to come to Bray's aid if necessary.