Runs Fri., Oct. 18–Thurs., Oct. 24 at SIFF Film Center. Rated PG-13. 87 minutes.
As legislatures in Nebraska, Kansas, and other red states seek to close their few remaining abortion clinics, this is a timely, sympathetic look at those doctors practicing at the least popular extreme of the pro-choice camp. At the time of filming, only four physicians in the U.S. offer late-term abortions in their three separate clinics. One is located in liberal Boulder, Colo., which makes sense. The other two are in New Mexico and Nebraska, which makes no sense. Is the need greater there? Are there more birth defects, more poverty? And why, apart from the possibility of being assassinated (as was Dr. George Tiller in 2009), aren’t more than four doctors offering this service? Surely medical schools have something to say on the subject.
First-time documentary filmmakers Lana Wilson and Martha Shane never address such issues. Nor, apart from scenes of a few evangelical protestors, do they provide much political context. They’re not journalists, and their intent is only to humanize four aging physicians as people—not as demons subject to sidewalk screaming, fiery sermons, political denunciations, and the occasional bullet. (“You don’t give in to terrorists,” says one stubborn physician.) I can applaud them for doing just that: This is a partisan, pro-choice doc given amazing access to doctor/patient consultations, and most of these conversations are heartbreaking. “I would rather her not suffer,” says a woman carrying a fetus with half a brain. Abortion is never a casual decision; and the longer a woman waits, be it for economic or medical reasons, the greater the cost and the fewer the providers. Hence all the desperate calls and e-mails fielded in the clinics.
Imagine going to work each day—never mind the medical procedures—and simply listening to such sad stories over and over again. That these four physicians are brave and compassionate is beyond dispute. Now where is the documentary about how the health-care system has forced them into that lonely position?