A compelling film about abortion has been opening in theaters across the states. From Salt Lake City to Houston, to Columbus, Detroit and Eugene, After Tiller, by directors Martha Shane and Lana Wilson, has been stirring debate, and on October 30, it opened in Washington, DC, where it is playing all week. It’s hard to imagine a better time for this film to be seen, or a better film to see at this moment.
Since 1973, when the US Supreme Court upheld a woman’s right to end her pregnancy in certain circumstances, many states have limited access to abortion after what is called “fetal viability”. Nine, including Nebraska, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas and now Texas, have banned abortion well before that, at twenty weeks, with few or no exceptions.
While the debate over the twenty-week abortion bans rages on, at the Supreme Court, and in the Senate, where South Carolina Republican Lindsay Graham is preparing to propose a bill that would prohibit abortions after twenty weeks under federal law, the film After Tiller reminds us that although later term abortions are relatively rare, still, more than 35,000 women each year have abortions at sixteen to twenty weeks gestation and over 11,000 women need abortions after twenty weeks of pregnancy.
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Recently, GRITtv talked to Martha Shane about her decision to make After Tiller, and Dr. Susan Robinson, one of the doctors in the film, and one of just four doctors still left in the US willing to perform those critically needed later-term abortions.
“I think that people have no idea about how desperate women are,” says Dr. Robinson. Since the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in 2009 and the closing of his clinic in Wichita, Kansas, access to abortion care has shrivelled. In 87 percent of US counties, there are no abortion services at all, and it’s even worse than that for women who need the procedure late, usually because of late diagnosis of a fetal anomaly or a late diagnosis of the pregnancy.
"These are women who find themselves in intolerable circumstances and are willing to do anything to be not pregnant. This is not a decision that they understake casually. They are not just putting it off because they don’t know what to do.” Dr. Robinson explains.
An intimate look at the abortions no one wants to talk about, After Tiller turns a compassionate lens on a complicated, multi-faceted issue. For more on this topic, watch this interview with lawyer and activist Lynn Paltrow: “At What Point in Pregnancy Does A Woman’s Personhood End?”