Women’s rights activists, film enthusiasts, and interested parties alike gathered in the Powell Family Cinema on Monday, March 31 for a screening of “After Tiller,” a documentary about late-term abortion doctors. The screening was hosted by Rho Epsilon Pi (Rho Ep), Clinic Escorts, and the Doula Project, in partnership with the Film Series.
The film, directed and produced by Lana Wilson ’05 and Martha Shane ’05, follows the lives of the United States’ only four third-trimester abortion doctors after the murder of Dr. George Tiller in 2009 at his local church in Wichita, Kan. Tiller was the fifth late-term abortion doctor in the United States, and was both a mentor and a friend to the other four doctors.
Wilson and Shane shadowed each doctor for roughly a month, capturing the difficulty of running a highly controversial practice in addition to their own ethical struggles with the procedure. Several patients were also featured in the film, though their names and faces were never revealed.
Following the screening, Wilson and Shane were both available for questions, and stressed that the goal of the film was not to politicize late-term abortions, but to help the audience understand why these doctors choose to offer this procedure.
“How can people understand what you’re doing when the only information about you has been crafted by this army of villains?” Wilson said. “There was so much heated rhetoric and [such a] shouting match over abortion in this country…. We wanted this to be quieter, so people could contemplate what was happening and form their own opinions.”
Shannon Welch ’14 represented both Clinic Escorts and the Doula Project. She stated that the film exceeded her expectations.
“My favorite scene was the conversation between one of the doctors and her counselor, and even her counselor was doubting,” Welch said. “When you’re a clinic escort or you’re a doula, you will have some of those cases that challenge even your most pro-choice ideas. Seeing someone have a moment of doubt and then come back from it to that idea that it is really a choice was a great moment for me, and really inspiring.”
She further stressed that the film’s focus on the doctors and individual women was extremely compelling.
“[The film showed that] these doctors are still going to work, despite all the threats against them, and they’re doing it with that mindset [that] this is a war over reproductive rights,” Welch said. “But it also had this aspect of female care and showed that women should be able to do what they know is right for their bodies.”
The film was also designed to educate audiences about why women choose to receive late-term abortion procedures, as the topic is often excluded from political abortion debates.
“Even very pro-choice people don’t know why a women would end up in this situation, and certainly anti-abortion people also don’t,” Shane said. “The most common response that we’ve had screening in all different parts of the country is, ‘It’s so much more complicated than I ever imagined before.’”
Welch agreed with the complexity of the situation and felt that the film filled an important gap in popular discussion about abortion.
“There hasn’t been a dialogue about this particular kind of abortion…. The doctors never really get a say,” Welch said. “I’ve always found it unimaginable, and the film made it so I didn’t have to imagine it, it was right there in front of [me]. There was an email from a 14-year-old who wanted to hurt herself, and then there was a woman who just couldn’t raise the money for it, and then you’ve got the fetal anomaly issue. There are so many complicating factors that if you want to be informed and you want to talk about reproductive justice then you have to know that kind of stuff.”
Rho Ep Philanthropy Chair Rebecca Waxman ’16 was also highly involved in the planning process and stated that she was most surprised by the doctors’ strength.
“I was really in awe of them,” Waxman said. “What came across to me was, really, these are amazing people. People don’t really think about late-term abortions…and the courage that it takes to do that. Also the immense selflessness and kindness…. I was really blown away.”
The film was previously screened at the Sundance Film Festival, and Wilson and Shane have continually showed it to audiences of mixed political views. Though they specifically tried not to make the film politically charged, both expressed the hope that it will motivate audiences to think deeply about late-term abortions.
“We just hope that it will make more compassion for the doctors and the patients,” Wilson said. “You might disagree with the decisions that [they’re] making, but these situations are really complicated, really personal, and you can at least have a little compassion for them.”
Waxman stated that she found the film to be extremely thought provoking, and hopes that it will continue to be shown to audiences on both sides of the issue.
“I would hope that it would push [people] to think about it,” Waxman said. “That’s definitely what I felt after [seeing] it. I feel far more educated about the topic, and it’s something that I want to think about more. I just hope it gets people thinking about the whole picture when it comes to these kinds of issues. It’s not trying to convert anyone, or sway anyone, or change anyone’s mind. It’s just meant to educate on [an aspect] of [reproductive rights], and so I hope people take that away.”
Welch stressed that knowledge of the lives of these doctors and the women opting for abortion procedures is critical to making informed decisions about reproductive rights, and she also emphasized that documentaries like “After Tiller” are an effective medium for public education.
“If you want to make a choice to be pro-life, I want you to see this movie, and I want you to know what you’re going against,” Welch said. “If that’s still your choice, that’s your choice, but I think everyone needs to start with the same level of exposure to the issue and then make their decisions. You need to be informed.”