After Tiller


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

After Tiller
"Some of their patients' stories are so heartbreaking that they will test the mettle of even the most steadfast opponents."

George Tiller died in Kansas in 2009, shot through the eye by an anti-abortion protestor. His was a dramatic story that made world news and further inflated an already vigorous debate. But what about the aftermath? After Tiller looks at the effect of the shooting on the handful of other doctors willing to provide late term abortions. With intimate access to the clinics where they work and the staff who assist them, it explores the day to day nature of their work and the ethical and emotional challenges they would have to face even without the death threats.

Laws on abortion vary considerably across the US and some of these women have travelled long distances to reach the few clinics able to assirt them. Some come with their partners, hoping to end planned pregnancies to spare the children they desperately wanted from the pain of being born with severe, incurable diseases. Another has been raped, spent months in denial, then became horrified by the thought of giving birth to her rapist's baby. A girl writes to ask for help ending the pregnancy she has hidden because she couldn't bear the thought of being in that situation again at just 14.

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The idea of a late term abortion - a digitoxin administered to stop the heart of the baby, followed by an induced stillbirth - is something that understandably makes people uncomfortable. The doctors themselves share those feelings. Some of their patients' stories are so heartbreaking that they will test the mettle of even the most steadfast opponents, but other cases are less compelling, and the doctors debate if or when it is appropriate to turn somebody away. Should they do so, they know, there is a risk of those people seeking out backstreet abortionists and dying as a result of botched procedures. They gently suggest adoption, but it's clear that not everyone perceives that as a viable option.

Gradually, seeing them at work and listening to them talk, we get to know the doctors and to understand why they do what they do. It isn't simply about saving lives. Quality of life is also an issue, and one talks at length about his experience in pediatrics dealing with children who were neglected or abused simply because their parents didn't want them. It's clear that all involved have encountered some very distressing situations; their fortitude is remarkable.

Although the focus here is on the work of the clinics rather than the associated debate, brief stories are told about some of the actions fundamentalist anti-abortion campaigners have undertaken and these, too, are distressing. Some of the clinic staff say that they feel they are not protected from what are, basically, terrorist threats, even though their activities are legal. They also assert that it's time their side of the story was heard.

Despite this expressed desire, After Tiller is not a strongly partisan film. Its strength lies in its ability to coax out the personalities behind the arguments, and to show us that, at the heart of every such controversy, there are vulnerable human beings.

Reviewed on: 02 Dec 2013
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A look at the work of late term abortion providers in the US.
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Director: Martha Shane, Lana Wilson

Year: 2013

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: US

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