Sunday, April 10, 2011


I recently watched the documentary 12th and Delaware, a 2010 film by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady of Loki Films, the filmmakers behind Jesus Camp. In the wake of Operation Rescue and the Maryland Coalition for Life setting up a "pro-life center" across from Dr. LeRoy Carhart's late-term abortion clinic in Germantown, MD, a review of 12th and Delaware seems timely.

Shot in Fort Pierce, Florida, 12th and Delaware focuses on A Woman's World, a reproductive health center that provides abortions, and Pregnancy Care Center, an anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center (CPC) right across the street. Here, at the corner of S. 12th Street and Delaware Avenue, an ongoing drama plays out between the abortion clinic, the anti-abortion CPC, and a cluster of passionate anti-abortion protesters.

The documentary begins outside the A Woman's World at 5 a.m., where a cadre of anti-abortion protesters harangue the clinic staff. Holding plastic fetuses and signs with messages such as "Thou Shall Not Kill," the protesters call staff by name, condemning their "work of the devil." One woman stands in front of a staffer's car as he pulls out into the street, taunting him with a plastic fetus and likening it to his granddaughters. As patients arrive, the protesters call out to them, claiming "we can help you" and insisting that most women regret their abortions.

Next, we meet Anne, the anti-abortion activists who directs Pregnancy Care Center. As Anne counsels pregnant girls and women, we see her try to emotionally maneuver her clients into carrying their pregnancies to term. In one scene, Anne's CPC has given a teenage girl a pamphlet claiming that abortion allegedly increases the risk of breast cancer*, which the girl described as "scary."

We see Anne talking to Brittany, a 19 year-old woman who feels that she is not ready to have a child because she is unemployed and without health insurance. As Brittany receives an ultrasound at the CPC with her boyfriend at her side, Anne describes the shape in the image as a "baby", directs attention to its heartbeat, and types "Hi Daddy!" on the ultrasound. She gives plastic fetuses -- similar to the ones brandished by the anti-abortion protesters -- to Brittany and her boyfriend. Later in the documentary, when Anne learns over the phone that Brittany has terminated her pregnancy, her disappointment is palpable.

In other scenes, we see Anne using a variety of tactics to dissuade pregnant women and girls from having abortions. For instance, when one young woman confides that her boyfriend is verbally abusive, Anne says that a baby could change him. Elsewhere, we see Anne telling clients that all the post-abortive women she's seen have been depressed and regretful, describing abortion in gory terms, and showing clients films that allege devastating health consequences from abortion. When she successfully dissuades a client from seeking an abortion in one scene, she is jubilant.

"This battle is just so vicious, and the evil is just so powerful and so brutal that God is doing everything he can," Anne laments. She speaks of her CPC and the abortion clinic in heavily moral terms, comparing them to light and dark. The husband and wife team operating the abortion clinic seek only a paycheck, she insists, comparing them to a car dealership strictly out for money.

During a training session with CPC staff, Anne classifies female clients as "fearful" and "fearless." She urges trainees to "hook" callers, reminding them that some callers do not know whether or not they're calling a true abortion clinic. Anne emphasizes the importance of getting clients in the door rather than dissuading them from getting abortions while on the phone.

Viewers behold a scene from a Catholic mass, where a priest officiates at an altar with a "LIFE" sign before it. After condemning the "abortion industry" as a "diabolical religion," the priest compares abortion to blood sacrifice and the procedure table to an altar. He tells worshipers that the forces they fight are not flesh and blood, but the powers of darkness themselves. (Sound familiar?) In a later scene, the priest chats with Anne outside the CPC, chuckling about an incident when he'd stood on a ladder and talked over the abortion clinic's fence, prompting the clinic to call the police.

In a particularly chilling scene, the filmmakers ride with an anti-abortion protester, an imposing man who is following a covert lead to a pick-up site where an abortion clinic staff member retrieves the clinic's doctor. After driving to a Wal-Mart parking lot and identifying the doctor's car, the protester waits for the doctor to return so that he can identify him. While waiting, he informs the filmmakers that he hopes his collaborators can find out where the doctor lives, so that he can arrive with a board with the abortion provider's photo on it and inform others that the doctor performs abortions.**

After devoting the first portion of the documentary to Pregnancy Care Center and the anti-abortion protesters, the filmmakers introduce viewers to Candace and Arnold, the husband and wife who operate A Woman's World. In her office, Candace complains that the anti-abortion protesters are "relentless" and do not have lives, since they spend almost all of their time demonstrating near the clinic. While thumbing through clipped articles on shootings and murders of abortion providers, she notes that the doctors she knows take special safety measures, such as wearing bulletproof vests and carrying weapons. A Woman's World experienced a fire in 2000 that closed the clinic for six months, which Candace suspects was arson.

Candace's on-screen interactions with female clients differ greatly from Anne's. When a pregnant 46 year-old client told her that she didn't feel able to raise a child at her age, Candace stressed to the woman that it was her decision as to what step to take. In a later scene, Candace comforts a woman who sees herself as a monster for seeking abortion, counseling her on birth control pills and negotiating condom use with her partner.

In other scenes, we see her trying to undo what Pregnancy Care Center has told women and girls. For example, when a young lady tells her that the CPC showed her a gory video on the abortion process, Candace must explain that in an actual abortion, blood is not all over the table. In another scene, Candace informs a woman that she is 10 weeks pregnant, after the CPC told her that she was only 7 weeks pregnant. Candace suspects that the CPC tells women that their pregnancies are less advanced so that clients think they have plenty of time to make a decision. When the women finally come to a decision, Candace claims, the time window for them to secure an abortion has passed, forcing them to forgo the procedure or travel to another state for a late-term abortion.

In the final scene, Spanish-speaking anti-abortion protesters call out to a Hispanic woman approaching A Woman's World. When the woman confides that she is a single mother and that the government has never helped her, the protesters promise to pay her rent and get money for her immediately. Their promises are entwined with warnings about the alleged physical pain and burdened conscious she will endure if she goes through with an abortion. When the Hispanic woman finally relents and follows some of them into Pregnancy Care Center, the other protesters are delighted and relieved. Candace, observing the scene, resents the anti-abortion protesters for trying to pressure women into keeping unwanted pregnancies, only to allegedly renege on their promises of aid.

As the documentary closes, a jarring statistic flashes on the screen: currently in the U.S., there are 4,000 CPCs in operation, compared to 816 abortion clinics.

12th and Delaware, like Jesus Camp, was filmed with no narration from the filmmakers, thereby allowing the documentary subjects to speak in their own words. The result was a study in contrasts between a CPC using questionable tactics to prevent women from seeking abortions, versus a reproductive health clinic respecting the decisions of its clients. Both Candace and Anne held strong convictions about their work, which drove Candace to operate A Woman's World in the face of protests, and Anne to prevent abortions by any means. Both women had noble intentions -- Candace respected women's autonomy and right to seek reproductive care, while Anne afforded high status to the unborn -- but their means could not be more different.

12th and Delaware addresses not only abortion, but the ethics of struggling for a social cause. The anti-abortion convictions of the protesters lead some of them to perform questionable acts, such as tormenting staff and clients at A Woman's World and conspiring to violate the anonymity of an abortion provider (which could have potentially jeopardized his safety). Anne's convictions led her to work at a CPC, where she used horror and guilt to persuade clients. At what point do the ends stop justifying the means? Do strong convictions justify manipulative tactics?

For me, at least, the answer is no. While people are free to speak out for or against abortion, they must do so in ways that are truthful and respectful of the autonomy of others. They must trade in accurate information so that their target audience can make informed decisions. They must come to the debate with integrity. To do less is to refuse to see one's target audience as full moral agents.

On a more basic level, 12th and Delaware showed viewers the frontlines of the abortion debate: the clinics and CPCs themselves. While reproductive health clinics seek to provide health services, including abortion, many CPCs seek to persuade pregnant women to carry their pregnancies to term. As battles over abortion rage in legislatures across the country, they also continue in smaller settings, such as a modest street corner in Fort Pierce.

For additional commentary, visit the following links.

Mother Jones: 12th and Delaware Shows Where Abortion War is Really Waged

Los Angeles Times: Television Review: 12th and Delaware

Democracy Now: 12th & Delaware Offers Unique Inside Look at Struggle Between Abortion Clinic and Anti-Abortion Pregnancy Care Center

Huffington Post: 12th and Delaware Joins the HBO Summer Documentary Series

* - The claim that abortion increases breast cancer risk is dubious. In 2003, the National Cancer Institute convened a gathering of over 100 leading cancer experts, who concluded that abortion does not increase a woman's risk of developing breast cancer.

** - This tactic has been used by other anti-abortion protesters as well. Click here and here for examples.


  1. What a fantastic post. Your review is well done and riveting, Ahab. I'm getting angrier and more determined. Such a contrast between two women who both believe themselves to be well-intentioned. One feels driven to save lives "for god" and the other simply wants to help women make informed choices without guilt for assuming control over their own bodies.

    It's compelling to see the difference between god's tactics and the approach of women who actually care about women. God is manipulative, dishonest, and uses any means to get to the end. Women who care about women ... truly care. They treat women with dignity and respect. What a stunning contrast. Speaks volumes about who truly has women's best interests at heart.

    Makes it all the more difficult to understand women like Anne.

  2. Cognitive Dissenter -- Thanks! I too think the differences in their tactics are very revealing. Like JESUS CAMP, this documentary is a must-see.


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