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.
The Associated Pressreports that the Kansas Supreme Court has indefinitely suspended the law license of anti-abortion crusading former KS Attorney General (2003-2007) Phil Kilne. During his time as Attorney General, and throughout a subsequent stint as Johnson County District Attorney, Kline aggressively attacked Planned Parenthood and abortion provider Dr. George Tiller. The intensity of that relentless battle led to the killing of Dr. Tiller by anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder on a Sunday morning in May, 2009.
No one is pinning blame for the murder of the widely-beloved physician on the anti-abortion obsessed former attorney. But Planned Parenthood supporters and pro-choice activists have to be cheering the small light that’s now shining on Kline’s egregious misconduct. The 154-page Supreme Court decision lists 11 specific violations of the state’s Rules of Professional Conduct committed by Kline while he was in office. As county D.A., for example, he filed 107 criminal charges against the Planned Parenthood clinic, all of which were subsequently dropped.
Third-trimester abortions, which are performed by fewer than a handful of providers in the U.S., are in many ways the hardest to defend, for those of us committed to protection of women’s reproductive rights. But I can absolutely promise that no one chooses a late-term abortion without strong, urgent and very personal reason. It’s a complex procedure with attendant complex effects. But Dr. Tiller chose to offer this procedure to women in need, and others are working hard to preserve the right as part of his legacy.
Which brings me full circle back to Phil Kline. Obsessed with his conviction that abortion is a sin and must be banned, Kline brought excessive, unnecessary and costly disruption to Planned Parenthood services — which extend far, far beyond abortion: counseling, breast cancer screening, free screening for STD, contraception, countless services critical to boys and girls, men and women in the area. It was cruelty bordering on the insane to those countless innocent people in need of such services. So as I head over to the Roxie I am personally grateful for the Kansas Supreme Court and the note of sanity it has now brought to the state.