In the wake of the murder of Dr. George Tiller, America’s most infamous abortionist, there are only four doctors remaining in the country that are willing to perform third-trimester abortions. Despite these procedures being legal, the practitioners, and more distressing the patients, are often subjected to harassment and threats from pro-life campaigners and religious activists protesting such treatments.
After Tiller, screened exclusively at London’s Frontline Club, documents this heavily debated issue in a manner that is neither aggressive nor judgemental in its approach but rather an outlet to see things (perhaps for the first time) from the perspective of these four enduring doctors and the patients they care for.
Operating in the few remaining states that deem this practice legal, the doctors are spread within three surgical clinics, each with its own clan of anti-abortionist protesters picketing outside their doors. Regardless, the doctors remain headstrong in the idea that what they are doing is helping desperate women nationwide and thus carrying on the work of Dr. Tiller whom they all looked up to as a mentor and a friend. That said it is clear that the unnerving notion that any one of them could be the next victim of an activist attack looms over their heads everyday.
Directors Martha Lane and Lana Wilson’s approach to these matters is one of extreme delicacy, hiding the faces of the pregnant women and focusing on the intimate and loving nature of the doctors despite their clinically sterile environment.
Still, this does nothing to take away from the severity of the issue or the harrowing stories shared by the women seeking treatment during therapy sessions offered by doctors. It is during these scenes that the film is at its hardest to watch with discussions varying from rape, child disfigurement and/or severe learning difficulties, unsafe home environments and the inability to support a child financially.
The anguish and guilt these women are put through by the public, their own families and even their own self-torment (not to mention accounts of self harm and attempts of illegal abortions) is truly heart-wrenching and can be too much for some to bare perhaps signified by the withdrawal of a few audience members unable to make it through the films entirety.
Throughout, the doctors are intent on reserving their practice as dealing with a public health issue rather than it being murder as their opposing forces so callously label it.
Whether the film achieves this or not however is down to the viewer though it’s hard to imagine that anyone would not be moved by the recounted tales and forced to question their own principles. Either way, this is a must watch for anyone wishing to gain an informed opinion on this emotionally fragile issue.