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Laramie Movie Scope:
After Tiller

Doctors in the line of fire

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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November 24, 2013 -- This documentary about the only four doctors in the United States who are performing late-term abortions is a fascinating look at the people who perform the abortions and the people who want them.

This is not a film which cites statistics and reports. It shows real people with real problems who come to these doctors for help, crying and in distress, often completely isolated from their friends and families. The doctors try to comfort and help them, but sometimes they cannot. They are way out there on the edge, where the buck stops. They are the last resort and their decisions are final.

The title of the film refers to Dr. George Tiller, who was assassinated in church in 2009. His death hangs heavy over the doctors in this film, who were all friends with Tiller, who also performed late term abortions, and mentored them. They have all vowed to carry on his work. They will not be intimidated. One of the doctors, Leroy Carhart said that Tiller had planned to retire, but was murdered before he could retire.

One of the doctors, Shelley Sella, gets right to the heart of the abortion issue, particularly the moral problems she struggles with in doing third trimester abortions. I think the reason I've struggled is because I think of them as babies. I don't think of that as a fetus. The abortion method mentioned in the movie is using a drug to kill the unborn baby, then inducing labor, resulting in a stillborn birth. This method preserves the woman's reproductive system. Footprints, handprints, funerals and other events associated with this method of abortion are also mentioned in the film.

The most emotionally powerful moments in the film come with the doctors talking to women about why they want a third trimester abortion. In some cases, the decision revolves around genetic defects and severe medical disorders diagnosed very late in the pregnancy. In other cases, the reason is simply that the mother doesn't want to give birth to what may be a healthy baby for a variety of reasons.

The doctors sometimes have to say no to an abortion request for medical reasons. Doctors are seen struggling with this decision, a decision which, in most cases, is final. There is some discussion about money. It is evident that abortion restrictions don't apply to rich people. Rich women can afford to travel to any state, or country, where abortion is legal and can afford to pay for the related medical expenses out of pocket, if necessary. Women with little or no money have little or no choice when it comes to abortions, particularly those this late in pregnancy.

These doctors essentially take a libertarian view of the abortion issue, that it is up to the woman to decide what is to be done. The woman is presumed to have the ability to decide what is best for her and her unborn baby. Nevertheless, there are some very hard decisions for these doctors to make.

One doctor, Leroy Carhart, decides to move his practice from Nebraska because of a change in Nebraska abortion law. He tries Iowa, but resistance flares up, so he moves to Maryland, where resistance also flares up, but he stays, despite pressure on him and the owner of the property he is leasing for his clinic.

Two other doctors, Sella and Susan Robinson, who live together in California, but commute to work in Alburquerque, New Mexico, also face opposition. In fact, voters in Albuquerque rejected a ballot initiative on November 19, 2013 which might have shut them down if it had been approved and upheld in court. Robinson said she became interested in third trimester abortions after two abortion doctors were shot in Florida. Her response to intimidation is defiance.

Another doctor, Warren Hern of Boulder, Colorado, is very businesslike. His elderly mother is also in the film, talking about harassing phone calls she has received because of her son's abortion practice. Hern talks about the threats he has received and how anti-abortion activity negatively affected his first marriage, which ended in divorce. The families of these doctors provide a lot of support for them, but they also suffer from the relentless opposition of anti-abortion groups.

This is one of the best films I've seen this year. The access to doctors, their staffs, patients and families is very impressive. It has a lot of emotional power and it plays the abortion issue right down the middle. My own view is that abortions should not be performed for the sake of mere convenience, but how you put that idea into law is a mystery to me. Some patients in this film had good reasons for choosing abortions, others did not, so there was a good cross section of reasons.

One thing is for sure, these doctors are brave and they are determined to succeed against very determined, sometimes deadly opposition. The anti-abortion activists don't really get to present their side in this movie. That's because this movie doesn't really present arguments as such for and against abortion. It presents cases explained by the actual people seeking the abortions. It does seem at times that anti-abortion activists only care about children before they are born. Some of the same people who oppose abortion, also oppose laws to provide reproductive health care for poor women. The lack of care may lead to more abortions. This movie rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2013 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)