"After Tiller" Tells the Stories Behind the Headlines

Four years after the murder of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas, the battle to continue allowing abortions in the third trimester has moved to New Mexico. Yesterday’s New York Times covered the protests and controversy surrounding Southwest Women’s Options, the clinic in Albuquerque, N.M., that provides abortions after 20 weeks, among other services. Anti-abortion activists, including members of Operation Rescue, the group known for staging protests outside of abortion clinics nationwide and harassing and intimidating doctors who perform these abortions, are organizing behind a referendum that would ban abortions after 20 weeks in the city, effectively shutting down the clinic.

The September 20 debut of After Tiller, then, couldn’t come at a better time. After Tiller documents the lives and work of the four remaining doctors in the U.S. who will perform third-trimester abortions (less than two percent of all abortions in the U.S. are third trimester abortions). Two of the doctors profiled in the film, Dr. Mary Robinson and Dr. Shelley Sella, are physicians at Southwest Women’s Options. The two other doctors, LeRoy Carhart and Warren Hern, practice in Maryland and Colorado, respectively.

The film offers extraordinary access inside the clinics and homes of all four doctors and follows them as they meet with women in need of their services. Most of the women have learned their fetuses have fatal birth defects, and can’t bear to bring the pregnancy to term. One patient of Dr. Hern’s became pregnant as a result of rape. The audience is offered a rare glimpse inside the rooms where the doctors counsel these women as they talk about their decision, offering information, support and guidance. The film also documents the work of anti-abortion activists protesting outside the clinics and working to obtain passage of a law in Kansas that criminalizes abortions after 20 weeks, effectively driving Dr. Carhart out of the state.

“[A]bortion is not about babies, it’s not about families,” Dr. Tiller said in a 2001 interview. “Abortion is about women’s hopes and dreams, potential, the rest of their lives. Abortion is a matter of survival for women.”

Dr. Tiller believed that everyone should trust women to make the best decisions for themselves. It’s an important lesson for audiences not just here in the U.S., but around the world.

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