Late-term abortions have to be the hardest to defend, and the most complex to consider — a segment of the abortion debate that I personally would want to stay as far away from as possible. But in “After Tiller,” filmmakers Martha Shane and Lana Wilson present a remarkably clear-eyed and comprehensive picture of the men and women who took on the job of providing this constitutionally-guaranteed right after the murder of Dr. George Tiller in 2009 by anti-abortion extremist Scott Roeder. And force the viewer to confront the issue as a piece of the broader reproductive rights issue.
The two filmmakers, who co-produced and co-directed the documentary, are not taking sides or making points; their hope is to promote dialogue — and I wish them every success. Having seen “After Tiller” online, and later on the big screen at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater, I congratulate them on honest coverage of an incredibly difficult issue. They were curious, they say, about the providers themselves and their relationships with their patients. So the film spends at-home and in-the-office time with the providers, Warren Hern, a friend of Tiller’s who practices in Boulder, Colo.; LeRoy Carhart, who considered coming to Wichita after Tiller’s death and now provides abortion services in Maryland; and Susan Robinson and Shelley Sella, who run a clinic in New Mexico.
For the anti-choice forces “After Tiller” offers a bombshell of a quote, when one of the women physicians looks directly into the camera and says, “This is not an abortion; this is delivery of a stillborn baby.” Third trimester abortions are surely nearing the time when “fetus” becomes “baby.”
But if you believe in a woman’s right to make her own choices and her own decisions, “After Tiller” shows just how wrenchingly difficult and complex the decision to have a third-trimester abortion must always be. Most of the cases shown depict parents facing a choice between delivering a live baby who might live a tortured few days or months or a stillborn whom they want to spare such a fate.
In a perfect world, those who oppose abortion at any time and those who believe in a woman’s right to choose could use this difficult but forthright film to talk about — maybe even to begin to comprehend – each other’s viewpoints. Unfortunately we are living in a polarized time and an imperfect world. Still, one can hope.
Go see the movie if you have a chance.