Image: Still from the film of a circle of empty chairs

The Basement Talks: A Documentary

In the aftermath of John Salvi’s murder spree at two Brookline clinics, leaders from opposing sides of the abortion debate met together in secret talks. None of the participants would change their minds, but the dialogues changed their lives.

“Excellent, important, timely, urgent, and needs to be seen and discussed widely.”

Peter Coleman, expert and author of The Way Out

Columbia University

THE BASEMENT TALKS follows the crimes, trial, and murder of John Salvi—and the story of six women, all of them leaders in the pro-life and pro-choice movements, who sought to ensure that it would never happen again.

These courageous leaders risked their personal safety and professional lives to meet secretly for six years under the guidance of Essential Partners co-founder Laura R. Chasin and mediator Susan Podziba.

The experience would forever change how they speak to and about each other. They would begin to engage in more cross-partisan efforts. And although they continued to disagree, together they successfully prevented future violence.

Dialogue participant Melissa Kogut, former head of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, calls this “a powerful documentary right when we need it.” Frances Hogan, founder of Women Affirming Life describes it as “fair, clear and intriguing,” and Anne Fowler, a pro-choice Episcopal priest, writes “inspiring, brilliantly told.”

Host a Screening

Arrange a preview screening of THE BASEMENT TALKS in your campus, library, faith center, or community. The documentary and supporting materials serve as a perfect springboard to have healthier, deeper, more connective conversations about abortion in your context.

Screenings come with free resources, including the official BASEMENT TALKS dialogue guide by Essential Partners. Select screening events will also have an opportunity to host the filmmakers, an Essential Partners representative, and/or participants from The Basement Talks for a post-screening Q&A or panel conversation.

Click here to learn more about hosting a screening.

Create Change in Your Community

Since 1989, Essential Partners has helped people build relationships across differences to address their communities’ most pressing challenges. Our research-based model, Reflective Structured Dialogue, allowed the six leaders featured in The Basement Talks to overcome their mutual mistrust and build relationships that have lasted for decades.

Our approach never asks people to change their core values and views, or to hide their identities. It does, however, transform stereotypes into genuine mutual understanding and turn conflicts into collaboration. It helps people see one another as whole human beings, which creates possibilities for lasting change that simply were not present before. It breaks the cycle of polarization.

We will teach you to design and deploy Reflective Structured Dialogue where you live, work, worship, and learn. You along with your neighbors, colleagues, and peers, will create the change that you, collectively, want to see.

Ready to begin? Join us for an upcoming workshop or schedule a free one-on-one call with an Essential Partners expert.

Headshots of each of the six participants in two stacked rows

About the Basement Talks Participants

Rev. Anne Fowler (top row, left) is an Episcopal priest and outspoken pro-choice advocate who served as the Rector of St. John's Church in Jamaica Plain, MA, on the board of directors for Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, and on the board of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

Madeline McComish (top row, center), a retired chemist, is past president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life.

Nicki Nichols Gamble (top row, right) was the President of Planned Parenthood League of MA at the time of the clinic shootings and throughout the six year–long dialogues.

Barbara Thorp (bottom row, left) was director of the Catholic Archdiocese Pro-Life Office in Massachusetts at the time of the clinic shooting, and served on the executive boards of the National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing, the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment, and Women Affirming Life.

Melissa Kogut (bottom row, center) was Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice MA at the time of the clinic shootings and throughout the six year–long dialogues.

Frances X. Hogan (bottom row, right) is an accomplished legal professional who has served in leadership roles for numerous pro-life and Catholic organizations, including Women Affirming Life and the Pro-Life Committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Photo: woman writing with pen on desk

“Powerful evidence of the ‘unimaginable’.”

Clara Germani, The Christian Science Monitor

Resources for the Press

Click here to download the complete press kit. To arrange a press screener, an interview with the filmmakers, Josh Sabey and Sarah Perkins, an interview with an Essential Partners expert, or an interview with participating members of THE BASEMENT TALKS dialogues, please contact:

Daniel Pritchard
Essential Partners
(617) 923-1216, Ext 24

Selected Media Mentions & Reviews

  • “Powerful evidence of the ‘unimaginable’” —Clara Germani, The Christian Science Monitor
  • “There's reason for people on opposing sides of abortion to talk, even if they disagree” —Kate Isaacs, Yahoo News
  • “Excellent, important, timely, urgent and needs to be seen and discussed widely” —Peter Coleman, Founding Executive Director of the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict and Complexity (AC4) at The Earth Institute at Columbia University and author of The Way Out


Photo: Empty chairs in a circle