Last week, Republic of Gilead discussed God Loves Uganda, a new documentary currently showing at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Another equally intriguing film is also being screened at Sundance this year, After Tiller. With the recent 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision and waves of anti-choice legislation moving through state governments, After Tiller couldn't be more timely.
Directed and produced by Martha Shane and Lana Wilson, After Tiller shares the stories of the four remaining doctors who perform third-trimester abortions in the U.S.: Dr. LeRoy Carhart, Dr. Warren Hern, Dr. Susan Robinson, and Dr. Shelley Sella. After the murder of late-term abortion provider George Tiller in 2009, the task of providing late-term abortions in the U.S. fell to these four former colleagues of Dr. Tiller.
The documentary shares the professional and personal challenges of each physician as they help their patients. The doctors provide abortion services amidst fierce opposition from anti-abortion activists who demonize them as killers. We learn the story of Dr. LeRoy Carhart, who began performing late-term abortions in Germantown, MD after anti-abortion activists resisted his efforts to open a practice in Nebraska. We learn of Dr. Warren Hern, who struggles to balance his family life with the stresses of working as an abortion provider in Colorado. We learn of Dr. Susan Robinson and Dr. Shelly Sella, who doctors who worked alongside Dr. Tiller in Kansas before his murder. All four doctors navigate the difficult terrain of abortion-restricting legislation, personal struggles, and the risk of violence.
In a director's statement, Martha Shane and Lana Wilson discussed their reasons for making After Tiller.
"We chose to explicitly frame our film as being from the point of view of these four doctors. Given the amount of violence directed towards abortion providers since the passing of Roe v. Wade in 1973, the murder of Dr. George Tiller in 2009 being only the most recent example, these doctors have frequently been forced to live in the shadows. As filmmakers, our goal was to give these doctors a voice. One of the most interesting things we discovered through interviewing the doctors is that they recognized the moral and ethical complexity in doing this work better than anyone—in fact, they struggle with the issues at the heart of this debate every day."Shane and Wilson also explained why they shared the stories of women seeking late-term abortions in the film. The humanized the women, pointing out that the came from diverse backgrounds and had a wide range of feelings about their decisions to terminate pregnancies.
"Likewise, the patients who came to these doctors for late abortions were not pro-choice political zealots. They were women from a huge variety of socio-economic and religious backgrounds, and they were racked with guilt, sadness, anger, and even ambivalence about their decisions. The reason so many patients agreed to participate in the film is because they never thought they would end up in such a desperate situation, and saw sharing their stories as the only way anyone could possibly understand. This is a refrain echoed by the doctors in the film, and was also part of the reason they decided to participate. They thought that if more Americans could meet them, and hear where they were coming from—even if they still disagreed with the work that they did—they at least might not want to kill them."Wilson found Dr. Tiller's devotion to reproductive rights intriguing. The idea for making the documentary came to her after Tiller's 2009 murder, as she pondered his motivations for providing abortion.
"I had the idea for the film in 2009, after Dr. Tiller was assassinated. The news coverage said that Dr. Tiller was killed in a church he had attended with his family for over twenty years, and I remember being surprised that this man could be both the greatest villain of the pro-life movement and a deeply religious Christian. The news also reported that Dr. Tiller had been shot before, but had returned to work the day after, which made me wonder—what kind of person would keep going to work after an experience like that? Who would ever want to do a job where they were hated by so many, and literally under attack every day, with what seemed like so little reward?"To learn more about After Tiller, visit the film's official website.
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
Los Angeles Times: After Tiller about abortion doctors, patients
Indiewire: Lana Wilson, Martha Shane Challenge Assumptions About Third-Trimester Abortions in After Tiller
The Daily Beast: After Tiller Profiles Last Four U.S. Doctors Who Do Late-Term Abortions