A documentary by Martha Shane and Lana Wilson. Unrated. Playing at the Vancity Theatre on Friday (November 29) and Saturday (November 30)
In 2009, a Kansas-based physician named George Tiller was killed during a Sunday service at Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita. Tiller was one of few American doctors who provided late-term abortions at the time, and he was shot in the head by anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder.
After Tiller, a 2013 documentary by Martha Shane and Lana Wilson, follows the four remaining doctors who still perform third-trimester abortions in the United States. Warren Hern runs the Boulder Abortion Clinic in Colorado, LeRoy Carhart provides abortions in Nebraska, and Shelley Sell and Susan Robinson share a practice in New Mexico. All four were either taught by or had worked with Tiller, and all have received death threats and personal attacks.
A late-term abortion is classified as terminating a pregnancy past 21 weeks, and accounts for less than 1 percent of all abortions in America. Women who choose to have an abortion in the third-trimester still experience labour and delivery. The fetus is euthanized in the womb, and the patient gives birth to a stillborn baby.
While the daily practices of Hern, Carhart, Sell, and Robinson rarely cross, their stories are similar. Women resort to late-term abortions because of family pressures, or rape, or financial issues. Some soon-to-be-parents decide to terminate a pregnancy after finding out that their baby would be born with grave deformities and disabilities, or with a terminal illness. The reasons might not be identical, but the pain and sadness that grows from the decision to have an abortion is indisputably overwhelming.
No matter what side of the debate one is on, there are scenes in After Tiller that will be difficult to watch, and decisions are made that are tough to accept. The film succeeds, however, because it manages to rise above the controversy surrounding legalized abortion in America and objectively presents what’s at stake here for the doctors and women involved.