After Tiller: The Grey Area of Late-Term Abortions

With only nine American States allowing late-term abortions, it remains a highly contested and pressing domestic issue. Wilson explained:

“In the last year more anti-abortion restrictions have been passed in the US than ever before. Since abortion was legalised in 1973 it has just been a tidal wave of restrictive legislation.”

Set in Colorado and Nebraska, Wilson recounted how shooting began in 2010 and that it took another year before the two female doctors gave their permission to be filmed along with their male colleagues. Evidently the doctors’ fear of further public stigmatisation was a major concern. Wilson expressed her frustration over the media’s abortion coverage, which was an underlying motivation for her film. She said:

“It is always dressed in this polarised black and white way. We are so often divided into these different camps: pro-choice and anti-abortion . . . as though there is no area in the middle.”

After Tiller successfully sheds a more nuanced light on the largely grey areas of third-trimester abortions. It achieves this through insights into the individual patients’ compelling stories and touching glimpses into the doctors’ personal lives. This is in stark contrast to the doctors’ demonisation as “sick individuals” in the papers and courtrooms across the country.

Instead, a very emotive atmosphere is presented inside the clinics and the sadness of each case is seen to have a direct effect on the doctors. After Tiller presents the uncomfortable truth that, without access to legal abortions, women might seek highly dangerous alternatives, and illustrates that there is no easy answer. As one expecting mother summarised in the film: “It is guilt no matter which way you go.”

A few audience members commented on how in touch the doctors were with the subjective element of evaluating the viability of a late-term abortion case. Wilson explained:

“Women who aren’t very articulate and who often find it difficult to get an abortion early in pregnancy are women who are poorer and less educated across the board.”

She continued to outline a major dilemma in the justification process:

“If you are really pro-choice you have to be ok with other people taking decisions that you might completely disagree with. . . People have the right to regret their decisions, that is part of being free. . . It is really hard to wrestle with.”

Despite the huge grey area that After Tiller deals with, when it came to its message and style Wilson was very clear:

“For us the bottom line is to get people to think about this with a little more compassion and less judgment. . . . Our goal was to try to bring more humanity and more understanding to these people who are at the centre of the abortion debate and whose voices have rarely been heard.”

The documentary’s filming style was remarkably subtle and observational. Wilson said: “We were trying to be invisible flies on the wall.” Links were made during the Q&A between the ethical considerations and delayed judgment necessary for the doctors dealing with abortion patients, which are also qualities synonymous with good documentary filmmaking. Wilson agreed:

“All four of the doctors really taught us a lot about being better documentary filmmakers: How do you listen to someone without judging them but just with compassion?”

What is the future of this fragile profession? Wilson explained that the doctors’ concerns are not the lack of professionals performing the procedure but the tightening legal restrictions in the various states. Since filming, a new law has been implemented know as the Fetal Pain Act, banning abortions after 20 weeks.

The anti-abortionists’ wrath lead one lady in the audience to ask: “Did you worry when making the film that you would be brining down some of that negative attention on yourself?” Wilson reassured her that despite some “nasty emails” the reception to their film, which has also been screened in medical and nursing schools, has surpassed any expectations. It is no surprise why. After Tiller breaks free from the polarised abortion rhetoric in a way that moves its audience.

For upcoming UK screenings of the film please visit November Films or the After Tiller website. You can also watch the film on iTunes here.