A California university initiative with ties to Walt Disney Studios and other major companies is funding a grant program for student film projects promoting abortion rights, prompting concerns from pro-life advocates about the message the program intends to convey.
The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, part of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, unveiled the program in an Aug. 17 tweet. The “Reproductive Rights Accelerator” program will award at least three senior film students a $25,000 grant toward the script development and creation of films about the issue of abortion.
A statement on the film school's website the following day indicated that the grant comes in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's reversal of Roe v. Wade in June. The Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization ruling overturned the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide, restoring individual states' ability to regulate or ban the practice.
The program, intended to focus on "reproductive health and political storytelling," is funded by the Women Moving Millions nonprofit. The organization consists of 340 members who make a minimum $1 million commitment to support initiatives for women and girls.
Stacy Smith, the founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, stated that the "curtailing of reproductive rights" made it necessary to educate the public about abortion and the need to "find legal solutions to protect marginalized communities."
"Entertainment has a unique ability to reach viewers and provide that education," Smith said, stressing that "our goal is to illuminate how many opportunities there are to use storytelling as a tool to expand the conversation and create substantial attitude and policy change."
The University of Southern California did not respond to The Christian Post's request for comment.
Nicole Hunt, the life issues analyst for the Evangelical parachurch organization Focus on the Family, told CP that "storytelling is an essential component in the culture wars waging over abortion policy today," contending that abortion activists are trying to shape the narrative surrounding abortion.
"The pro-life movement can and must counter these efforts with its own storytelling," Hunt wrote.
She identified the film "Lifemark," produced by former child actor and outspoken Christian activist Kirk Cameron along with the Kendrick brothers, as one such effort.
Based on a true story, the movie tells the story of a young couple who experienced an unexpected pregnancy, chose life and made an adoption plan for their baby. Hunt says the film is "a moving account of the power of love and forgiveness."
"As the pro-life movement makes storytelling a priority, it will do more than change the law on abortion in this nation; it will move people's hearts and minds to see preborn babies as worthy and deserving of life and love," Hunt predicted.
USC student Morgan Farrier told Campus Reform that she wants the grant funds to do more than promote one side of the abortion debate.
"I would hope that if this grant funds a story about somebody [whose] life was made easier because of her abortion, they would also fund stories about the women who regret their abortions, the women who chose life and were happy with their decision, stories of abortion survivors, and other individuals that don't fit the pro-choice narrative," Farrier said.
"If they fund a political narrative for reproductive rights, I hope they would also fund a political narrative for unborn rights."
The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative has received support from actresses Meryl Streep, Kerry Washington and Eva Longoria. Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider, has also emerged as a supporter of the initiative. Caren Spurch, the organization's national director of Arts and Entertainment Engagement, referred to the project as an "invaluable tool."
Additional supporters include leaders of Universal Music Publishing Group, Spotify and Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas.
Several major corporations back the initiative, including Walt Disney Studios, NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures and Google. After Roe'sreversal, the Walt Disney Company was among 60 corporations that promised to reimburse employees if they traveled to another state for an abortion.
An internal memo obtained by CNBC shows the company has promised to pay employees' travel fees to get an abortion out of state. Chief Human Resources Officer Paul Richardson and Pascale Thomas, vice president of enterprise benefits and well-being, signed the memo.
"Our company remains committed to removing barriers and providing comprehensive access to quality and affordable care for all of our employees, cast members and their families, including family planning and reproductive care, no matter where they live," the memo states.
Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.