Plan C


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Plan C
"Making a film like this in the US today is risky, and cinemas showing it will face risks, too. Nevertheless, they persist." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

According to the CDC, around 14% of all pregnancies which occur in the US are unwanted. That’s around 892,000 a year, so it will come as no surprise that 65% of Americans opposed the overturning of Roe v Wade. Without access to legal abortion, many who find themselves in that situation will turn to illegal abortion, which has a fatality rate 350 times higher. But wait – what if they could simply take a pill, at any time in the first nine weeks, with a 97% success rate and a vanishingly small risk of complications? That pill exists. The challenge is making sure that those at risk know it’s out there and are able to obtain it.

Tracy Droz Tragos’ documentary follows a team of women who were working on this for some years before the Supreme Court’s verdict came in. Not all of them are willing to be seen onscreen. One explains that she’s afraid of being arrested or shot. She has a family to think about (and, as we see, a beautiful dog). We meet supportive but worried boyfriends and husbands, a wife concerned that, though she knows that the woman she loves is tough, she’s not tough enough to withstand getting run down by a truck. Threats are made against them all the time. Nevertheless, they persist.

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“We’re operating a drug cartel in order to help people,” says one. Most of them are clinicians. Nothing is handed out without proper advice. Some speak openly, clearly feeling that it’s important to be seen to do so. They are following in a long tradition of civil disobedience in the pursuit of justice. One points out that women of colour originally led the struggle for reproductive rights – not just the right to abortion but the right to bring their children to term and raise them safe from harm. The Republicans only started to panic about abortion when white women sought it out, she says. If it were just Black women doing it, they’d be offering them limousines.

This connection to a long history of struggle gives the women courage. Fear complicates communication and damages relationships, but it is countered by a real belief that things can change for the better, and also by a deep sense of duty. The people who phone them in search of help are often suicidal, they report. We see quotes from reddit/abortion in which posters discuss overwhelmingly difficult situations. One women talks to camera about why she needed an abortion, having become pregnant after doctors refused her a tubal litigation because she was only 23. She has three children whom she plainly adores. She has a loving partner but he’s serving in the army and worries about what could have happened if she had developed pregnancy complications when he wasn’t there. It’s just one story but it helps to counter propaganda narratives about careless, promiscuous, child-hating women.

There is resistance, of course. The women are innovative in finding loopholes but their opponents try just as hard to close them. When unable to do so legally, they resort to intimidation. After one such development, a Minnesota State Representative goes online ask his followers to let him know if they see one doctor and her team, because he won’t accept what they’re doing. It’s a chilling response. Carefully planning everything they do to stay as safe as possible, some of the women discuss how disconcerting it is to find themselves living in a dystopia. They caution anyone who is pregnant to be careful who they talk to about it and never to write it down. Surveillance is everywhere.

There are unexpected allies, too. They receive outpourings of gratitude from strangers, not necessarily for having helped them directly but simply for existing. One brave truck driver puts their information on the sides of his vehicle, spreading it everywhere he goes. It’s the single most important thing, they say, to make people aware that they have options. That they can take mifepristone, a little white pill, and if they do so orally, holding it inside a cheek until it dissolves, then it won’t show up in tests; and they will experience pain, but within a few hours it will be over, and they can get on with the rest of their lives.

Making a film like this in the US today is risky, and cinemas showing it will face risks, too. Nevertheless, they persist. Faced with the war on truth, the documentarian’s art has never been more important. Tragos doesn’t risk alienating viewers by trying to explain the biochemistry involved, but she backs up her arguments, and her emphasis on civic resistance gives every viewer a useful role to play.

Reviewed on: 30 Sep 2023
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Plan C packshot
A hidden grassroots organisation doggedly fights to expand access to abortion pills across the United States keeping hope alive during a global pandemic and the fall of Roe v Wade.

Director: Tracy Droz Tragos

Year: 2023

Runtime: 99 minutes

Country: US

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