An after-school showing of the antiabortion movie "The Silent Scream" at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington was canceled abruptly yesterday after a flurry of complaints from parents who criticized the showing and questioned the film's accuracy.
Washington-Lee Principal William Sharbaugh said earlier yesterday he had approved the request of psychology teacher Guy Cavallo and a student in Cavallo's class to show a videotape of the film in a classroom after school, provided students who wished to attend brought signed permission slips from their parents.
But shortly before the end of the school day, Sharbaugh announced he had decided to cancel the film. "It has become very controversial and [it] has been perceived that Washington-Lee is supporting" the film's viewpoint, he said. "Also, it is possible that there are some inaccuracies portrayed" in the movie, he added.
The 26-minute movie shows a suction abortion of a fetus as depicted on a sonogram, which consists of computer-reconstructed images of echoes from ultrasound waves aimed at the uterus. Some doctors have questioned the film's accuracy, and Planned Parenthood of Seattle recently developed its own movie as a response.
Several parents of Washington-Lee students said they were upset to hear the film was scheduled without an accompanying presentation from an abortion activists' viewpoint.
"It's bad biology," said one mother, who asked that her name not be used. "With a topic like this, they should have a movie or discussion of the other side."
"I don't think it's proper to engage all the emotions [by showing 'Silent Scream'] without having a chance to show the opposite point of view," said Betty Hart, mother of a Washington-Lee senior.
Arlington School Board member Dorothy H. Stambaugh said she learned of the scheduled showing when a parent phoned her yesterday afternoon. "My reaction was, needless to say, dismay," she said. "For a teacher to show something that is not on our approved list [of books and supplementary materials] would be clearly inappropriate."
Superintendent Charles E. Nunley said the approved list of classroom materials is only applicable during the school day. But Stambaugh maintained that the film was clearly related to the psychology class, and said the time of the screening made no difference.
Psychology teacher Cavallo said a student who had videotaped "The Silent Scream" from television first approached him with the idea of showing it in class.
After watching the film, Cavallo said he decided it was "too sensitive to show in class" and arranged for the after-school screening.
"It is an antiabortion film, but it does have an awful lot of factual information in it," Cavallo said. "These kids, I feel, should see what happens in an abortion. They can draw their own conclusions."
Rosann Wisman, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, said she was pleased to hear that parents objected to the film. "The debate [about abortion] is a lot more complex than 'The Silent Scream' tries to present it," she said.
Darla St. Martin, associate executive director of the National Right-to-Life Committee, said "The Silent Scream" was a valuable film for high school students. "Learning about reality is part of getting an education, and so I think it's very appropriate that people learn what a real abortion is like."