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Movie review: After Tiller

by Ruby Warnock

Image announcing After Tiller showing at Sundance Film Festival courtesy Yes and No Productions

A group of our doulas got together yesterday to watch a screening of the film After Tiller as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival. The film offers a humanistic account of the state of third trimester abortions in this country following the assassination of the late Dr. Tiller at his church in Wichita, Kansas in 2009.

“I would prefer, personally, to have a challenging, stimulating and emotionally and spiritually rewarding career that is short, rather than have a long one that is filled with mediocrity, feeling you don’t make any difference to people.” The moving words of Dr. Tiller open this captivating documentary.

The film features doctors LeRoy Carhart, Warren Hern, Shelley Sella and Susan Robinson, the only four providers openly practicing third trimester abortions in the United States following the death of Dr. Tiller and provides a moving picture of the daily struggle of this challenging work. The film did a great job of highlighting the struggles experienced by all involved in the process. It manages to provide an accessible and unique prospective to the heated topic of late-term abortions.

We arrived to metal detectors and a strong police presence due to the guest appearance of one of the doctors featured in the film, Dr. Shelley Sella. We were lucky enough to meet her after the film!

Our doulas meet Dr. Sella at the screening of After Tiller

She is a truly inspiring hero, although she would prefer “role model,” which is why she chose to participate in the film. Her dedication to women is moving:

 “I think about what I do all the time – and I recognize what I do. At times I struggle and—at times I don’t. But I always come back to the woman and what she’s going through,” says Dr. Sella in the film.

The film was also attended by the lovely filmmakers Martha Shane and Lana Wilson, the talented editor Greg O’Toole and one of the cinematographers Emily Topper.

Third-trimester abortions are one of the most contended and misrepresented issues of the abortion debate and the film did a fantastic job of providing the viewer with insight into the difficult decisions that go into this procedure by the providers, the women and their families. After Tiller offers a thoughtful presentation of the issues accessible to audiences with variable views about abortion. 

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Serious question, how many times have you seen anatomy photos with Black women and Black babies in the womb? At the doctors office, medical books, anywhere?

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This is one reason that keeping abortion legal is not enough. It's already extremely difficult for many people -- even in CA -- to arrange funding, travel, childcare, etc. It's also why we do what we do. When things are already that hard, it's vital to have a support system.

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