Retired NFL player Benjamin Watson went from the gridiron to the silver screen in just over a year’s time. However, rather than becoming an action start like so many former athletes do, he has chosen to tell the important story of life – those who have yet to live it.
Watson produced and hosted a documentary called Divided Hearts of America. The film, directed by Chad Bonham, took a dive into what is really happening behind the scenes with abortions and the Pro-Life vs Pro-Choice movement.
The concept isn’t new but most platforms that tackle this subject weigh heavily onto whatever agenda they are trying to push. Essentially it becomes propaganda fodder for whatever audience they are trying to reach.
This film is a bit different as it features conversations with 30 different people all across the spectrum of these sides. It features senators, doctors, scientists, survivors of abortions, people who had them, doctors who performed them, lawmakers, Christians, atheists, and everyone else in between.
Watson was the man tasked with doing these interviews which was out of the box for him. He went from questionee to questioner for this project.
For him, the new experience was well worth the end goal and message for this film that was ultimately sparked after the Reproductive Health Act passed in New York in 2019. The bill received a wide reaction across the country.
According to NYSenate.gov, “The Reproductive Health Act legalizes abortion past 24 weeks of pregnancy if the woman’s health or life are at risk, or if the fetus is not viable.”
“I remember thinking, what can we do?” said Watson, as this law was stressing to him and his wife. Both have been involved in so many social justice initiatives and felt this was another to fight for. “My wife and I have been involved in supporting pregnancy centers and have been pretty outspoken about protecting life.
“Had a relationship with a lot of people in the film industry,” he explained.
Filmmaker and friend of Watson, Bonham had been thinking with his team about broaching this subject too. He emailed Watson about the idea for the documentary and asked if he wanted to be involved.
“The person who initially came up with the idea to do an abortion documentary at this particular time in our history was my producing partner Betsy Kennedy-Ryzewicz…She called me almost immediately after that law was passed with the idea of making a film that would expose what was happening,” the director said. “One of the first things she said was, ‘We’ve got to get Benjamin involved’…It made perfect sense to have him front the project.” Read the full interview with Bonham here).
Bonham and Kennedy-Ryzewicz had met Watson at Christian athlete events and stayed in touch over the years.
The former NFL tight end said yes to everything the film team pitched even though at the time he was still playing for the New Orleans Saints.
“Shortly after that, we embarked on this journey of interviewing people and traveling around the country,” said Watson.
Watson said among his peers and colleagues doing something like this documentary wasn’t an issue. In recent years, politics, human rights, and an assortment of other issues have made their way onto fields and into stadiums.
“We get to know each other, we all have our different passions especially during the last several years, you’ve seen a lot of people be vocal…For me, this fits right into our justice palette,” he said. “My teammates were like, ‘Wow you’re doing a documentary. What is it about’?”
The former tight-end is a father to seven children, and no doubt each one is special to him in their own way. Parents often talk about falling in love with their child upon hearing the first heartbeat. Feeling the way he does about the unborn, Watson said there was nothing that could sway his mind from thinking abortion is right.
“When people say things like, it’s a clump of cells or it’s not a human being, scientifically they are wrong. Science has proven that everything that is needed to develop into you and I talking is right there at the point of conception. Nothing has to be added or subtracted just in different stages.”
He pointed to scientists giving timelines of in utero milestones during pregnancies.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with religion. It’s science, it’s proven,” Watson explained. “I try to look past their opinion and respect what they think but ask why? What has happened in their life?”
Expanding further, “We try to hear all those voices and understand why people say what they say. No one can convince me that that is not a baby. What is at stake is what kind of rights and justice do those babies deserve.”
During the creation of the film, he said many people who were Pro-Choice wouldn’t speak to them. Never had a time that was argumentative because I was able to listen and he was able to listen to me. This is such an important life and death issue.
Watson believes that we can better address each other’s concerns by stating our peace in a learning facilitative type way. It also allowed him to see where the Pro-Life community can do better.
“We have to face the violence of abortion. Not only the violence of abortion on the human being being killed but the violence of the woman it’s being performed on,” Watson exclaimed. “Many don’t want to hear that, but that’s simply the truth. If you’re willing to sit there and say this is okay and this is right, you should also be willing to sit there and hear the details of what actually happens. Many people haven’t heard those things probably because it’s tough to hear.”
“Even if you don’t agree, who wants to hear what happens during a medical abortion? You see those images and they are jarring.”
One of the many criticisms hurled at the “Pro-Life” crowd is that in reality they are “Pro-Birth” and don’t care about what happens once the child is born. This means that they push for women who can’t afford or properly take care of babies to have them, but then are upset with welfare, government programs, or willing to turn a blind eye to foster care and adoption.
“I think the Pro-Life movement although in pockets and individually, does care about life in its totality and supporting and care for women…” he shared. “It’s a stereotype and a talking point and not completely true at all. We have to be people who lean into so many issues.”
One of the most poignant things he said was that statistics indicate that most women would carry the child if their circumstances were different. So he asks the question, “How do we help change that circumstance?”
“How do we listen to those concerns and advocate for those struggling. How do we see the intersection of all those other issues today as they relate to abortion? A lot of these things are connected,” said Watson.
Many who are Pro-Choice also support other movements such as Black Lives Matter. However, abortion disproportionately affects the black community more than any other community. In this sense, Black Lives Matter as long as they are born. It’s the opposite knock of the Conservative Right who is deemed “Pro-Birth.”
“The issue isn’t the black community caring about life. The issue is the political landscape and how everyone votes. The term Pro-Life didn’t even come along until Ronald Regan in the 80s,” he revealed. “That’s how it became tied so strictly to politics. If you adhere to many Democratic policies and social programs, that’s coupled with the Pro-Choice. If you are for limited government and more conservative values in terms of government, that’s Republican and tied to Pro-Life.”
He continued, “What’s missing is the holistic pro-justice, the pro abundant life that scripture talks about. And the ability to open your eyes and arms to the conception to the grave idea. I’m going to advocate for people to experience the fullness of life and not be discriminated against their entire life.”
Watson then went on to explain Planned Parenthood’s racist origins and past that he feels are conveniently looked over. Read more about this here.
“Planned Parenthood has a racist past. Many are in minority neighborhoods. They benefit from the health disparity. They benefit from the mortality rate, and they benefit from the criminal justice system. We know all these things. All these things contribute.”
As far as the Pro-Life side doing better, Watson has a number of ideas.
“We need to be pro-justice for criminal justice reform, rehabilitation, and understanding how policing works against people of color…” he said. “…But you need to support women, challenge men to be fathers, stand up for life in the womb just as much as seeing unarmed black people killed by police. Don’t let the political climate dictate what you believe. All these things affect the community.”
Watson is not sure what is next but he wants to continue to “touch lives with human dignity and justice.”
Divided Hearts of America can be watched on a variety of online platforms. Check here for listings.