After Tiller (PG-13)

Documentary 85 September 20, 2013
By Alan Scherstuhl
Martha Shane and Lana Wilson's warm, wrenching, humane film is as convincing a brief as I can imagine in favor of that most controversial of all pregnancy-terminating procedures: third-trimester abortions, which today are performed by only four American doctors. They're mostly old and tired, especially after the 2009 assassination of Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, Kansas. Tiller's murder inspired them all: "There's two reactions to being bullied," says Susan Robinson, who co-runs a clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico. "One is to pull your head in. The other is to say, 'Oh, yeah?'" The film doesn't stint on the harrowing nature of late-term procedures: One treatment involves euthanizing the fetus with a shot into the heart and then inducing a full labor and delivery. "Unless people understand what's going on for the woman, it's impossible to support it. How could you? It sounds barbaric," says Dr. Shelley Sella, also at the Albuquerque clinic. "What's difficult about the late-trimester abortion is that the woman delivers the baby, and it's a stillborn. It's a baby." She speaks with the frank, humble compassion she demonstrates in scenes with patients. "You have to think about it," she continues. "What are you doing, and why are you doing it? Well, it's inside the mother, and she can't handle it-- for many, many extremely desperate reasons." With great tact, the directors allow us eavesdrop on patients telling their stories. This is a rare intimacy. Only viewers blinded by the ideal that life is absolutely holy, no matter its quality, will not feel moved by what these women and men have endured here in the real world-- and respect for their agonized decision.
Martha Shane, Lana Wilson Lana Wilson, Martha Shane, Greg O'Toole Oscilloscope Pictures

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