By Don Simpson | October 11, 2013
Directors: Martha Shane, Lana Wilson
After the cold-blooded execution of the titular Dr. George Tiller in 2009 only a handful of doctors were qualified to perform third-term abortions. Martha Shane and Lana Wilson’s After Tiller follows the four remaining doctors in America who continue to perform late-term abortions despite being vilified as high priority targets of the pro-life movement.
Dr. Susan Robinson, Dr. Shelley Sella, Dr. LeRoy Carhart and Dr. Warren Hern risk their lives every single day, canonizing them as heroes in certain segments of the pro-choice movement. Every day at work these doctors must dive head-first into a morally grey quagmire as the gatekeepers for these questionable-yet-Constitutionally-permitted services. While being labeled as baby murderers by the right, these four doctors continue to do their jobs in order to provide women with the ability to maintain control over their own bodies — because, well, somebody has to do it.
On the surface, After Tiller may seem like it is just another pro-choice documentary, but this is a film about human beings faced with very difficult — and often dangerous — situations. Sure, the common thread between After Tiller‘s subjects is their role as late term abortion doctors, and though the morality of abortion and freedom of choice are dutifully discussed, that is not the primary motivation behind this film. By humanizing these often demonized subjects, After Tiller presents late term abortion doctors as gentle and loving human beings whose lives are constantly at risk because of their career, while their patients are just trying make a logical decision for their futures.
Shane and Wilson are smart to illustrate that these doctors do not accept every patient who walks into their clinics. Instead, they carefully study each patient’s situation and the motivations that brought them to need a late term abortion. None of these patients actually want a late term abortion, but they feel like there is no other logical option; while the doctors just want to continue performing their medical duty, a job that is an absolute necessity in a society that is frightened to openly and frankly discuss sex.
Even within the pro-choice community, late term abortions are rarely embraced without apprehension. I think everyone — including the doctors and patients featured in After Tiller — would agree that late term abortions should be limited. The question is how? Anti-abortionists believe in replacing abortion access with abstinence education and adoption, while pro-choicers prefer to decrease the number of unwanted or unsafe pregnancies with sex education and easily accessible contraceptives.
Just like a majority of the pro-choice movement, After Tiller is not pro-abortion. This is a film about giving women more options for situations in which they would otherwise only have one option: a birth that endangers the well-being of the baby or its mother. After Tiller will probably not convince anyone from the pro-life movement to switch teams, but it does succeed in portraying the tough ethical decisions that these doctors must face on a daily basis.
Shane and Wilson also effectively convey the psychological hardship of having to live in a constant state of fear just because certain people believe that it is their god-appointed duty to save unborn fetuses/babies; they might even be willing to kill these four doctors in order to do just that. The people who desperately need to open their eyes — and minds — to view these doctors and patients as fellow human beings will probably never watch this documentary; because if there is one thing the anti-abortion crowd does not want to do, it is to recognize anyone involved with abortions as a human being. By way of their warped religious ideologies, they prefer to judge and ridicule those who do not agree with them, going as far as threatening their lives and damning them to hell.
It has been several decades since abortion rights have been at as high of a risk of being taken away as they are today. State governments with overt Christian agendas (Texas, North Carolina) are finding various workarounds to make abortions more difficult to access, thereby opening the gates to dangerous back alley or self-enduced abortions. It is as if Shane and Wilson somehow had the foresight to know that the United States might be taking a sharp turn to the right, thereby releasing the film at the heart of the abortion debate.