Movies » Movie Reviews

"After Tiller"

Old school


In 2009, Dr. George Tiller was murdered, gunned down while in church by an anti-abortion extremist angered by the fact that Tiller performed late-term abortions at his clinic. Four years later, Martha Shane and Lana Wilson's empathetic and deeply humane documentary, "After Tiller," examines the impact that his death has had on the debate over abortion rights, as well as the lives of the only four remaining doctors (all former colleagues of Tiller's) in the country who still perform the controversial procedure. The filmmakers interview each of these doctors: Dr. Warren Hern in Colorado, Dr. Leroy Carhart in Nebraska, and Dr. Susan Robinson and Dr. Shelley Sella, who share a practice in New Mexico, allowing them the opportunity to explain why they do what they do.

Despite the fact that they account for less than 1 percent of all abortions, and are performed almost exclusively in cases where the life of the mother or the baby is at risk, these procedures are often at the center of anti-abortion arguments. Because it occurs in the third trimester, when the baby is nearly fully developed, the procedure lends itself to hysterical reactions. What Shane and Wilson set out to show is that these doctors aren't the monsters that so-called "pro-lifers" claim, but men and women well aware of the moral complications of what they do. As Sella herself states, "Unless you understand what's going on for the woman, it's impossible to support it. How could you? It sounds barbaric."

We hear from some of the women (filmed anonymously) who have made the decision to through with the operation, and the heartbreaking reasons they had for doing so. It's clear that it is a difficult and often traumatic process, for the mothers as well as the doctors who perform it, and never undertaken lightly by either party.

We see firsthand the struggles these doctors face, from the job itself, hearing day in and day out the sad stories of the women who seek them out, the protesters permanently camped outside their offices, to fearing for their lives and the stress it places on their families. As one of them states, "Every day I step out of my office, I expect to be assassinated."