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Laramie Movie Scope:
After Tiller

The four U.S. doctors who continue to offer late-term abortions

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(2013) After Dr George Tiller, MD, was murdered in church in Wichita, Kansas, in 2009 by a pro-life, anti-abortion fanatic for providing women with late-term abortions, just prior to his planning to retire and turn over his clinic to three other physicians, only four other doctors, none of whom take their responsibility lightly, continue to offer third-trimester (25 weeks or later) abortions.

Nine states allow late-term abortions, which comprise less than one percent of all abortions in the US. In Bellevue, Nebraska, Dr LeRoy Carhart, formerly in the military and a general surgeon, said he would "carry on the mission" of Dr Tiller, until the people of Nebraska voted in favor of the Fetal Pain Act in October 2010, making performing an abortion later than 20 weeks a felony. Knowing that some women will get desperate and do harm to themselves on their own, he and his wife relocated to Germantown, Maryland, where he resumed his practice.

For several years, alternating weeks to fly in to Albuquerque, NM, Dr Susan Robinson and Dr Shelley Stella operate a women's clinic. In Boulder, Colorado, Dr Warren Hern in his 70s, who after happily delivering babies in the states then witnessed while in the Peace Corps the abuses infants suffered at the hands of parents who didn't want them, perceives what he now does as a public health issue.

Co-directed and co-produced by Martha Shane and Lana Wilson, the documentary is slanted toward the pro-choice position in this acrimonious debate, portraying how these are very hard choices a relatively small number of women face: "What's really helping people?" While the pro-life movement argues that abortionists "brutalize women" and end the lives of "viable children," some of the patients shown coming in for help have been informed by their doctors of horrific fetal abnormalities: "What life will this baby have?"

Parents are clearly in agony over their decision to deal with a "lethal fetal condition" ("These babies will be angels") or "not a viable child" for whom the mother says making the decision now before birth would be better for everyone than later. Others are rape victims or teenagers in denial who put off doing anything until 25 weeks or more had passed. Many arrive from out of state with a pregnancy they can't or won't sustain, such as mothers already with children unable to afford yet another.

"Guilt no matter which way you go," says a woman accompanied by her husband. "Many, many extremely desperate reasons," remarks Dr Stella. Provided with counseling and compassion, a patient regards Dr Robinson ("I can't retire. There aren't enough of us") as "caring and loving," in contrast to what the protesters are shouting outside the clinic.

In spite of receiving death threats, including phone calls to his elderly mother, and five bullets through the window of his office, Dr Hern says to a patient: "My job is to get you through this safely." A woman who comes to the clinics has three choices, says Dr Robinson, none of which she wants to make: give birth to a child she doesn't want, give up the child to adoption, or have an abortion.

If pro-life groups were willing to provide financial and emotional support to these women, their cause might be more responsible. Though not every woman who comes to the clinics for an abortion is accepted ("Can't solve everybody's problems") - after 28 weeks, there must be a severe anomaly in the pregnancy - Dr Robinson expresses her viewpoint that to be fair once a woman has made her decision, she won't refuse unless the procedure would endanger the woman's life.

In Maryland, in an effort to intimidate Todd Stave, the landlord of Dr Carhart's new clinic, anti-abortion protesters went to the middle school where his daughter attended to harass and embarrass her. In this one-sided war, someone should confront the pro-life protesters by quoting from Scripture to these Christians of the incidents when their God ordered or allowed the massacre of innocent civilians, women, children, and infants.

"Voters in Albuquerque, New Mexico, defeated a proposed ban on abortion after 20 weeks in a special election yesterday [11/19]," reported Jessica Wakeman for The Frisky: "The ban would have criminalized all abortions after 20 weeks, including those resulting from incest and rape or in cases when a women's health is at risk. Had it passed, Albuquerque would have become the first city in America to adopt such abortion restrictions. The measure was defeated 55 percent to 45 percent, with only one-fourth of the city's voters casting a ballot, according to the New York Times. All women in NM would have been affected by the ban, as the only two clinics that perform these rare second- and third-trimester abortions are located in the city."

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Copyright © 2013 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [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)