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'After Tiller' Spotlights Important, Unheard Voices In The Abortion Debate

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Dr. Susan Robinson at the Albuquerque, New Mexico clinic where she practices. From Martha Shane and Lana Wilson's AFTER TILLER, a documentary about the last four doctors in the US who provide third-trimester abortions. (Photo courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories)
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By Carman Tse

As somebody who blissfully ignores cable news and religious fundamentalists, I have not heard the reaction that After Tiller has gotten from the pro-life side of the abortion debate since its New York premiere. But it won’t be very hard to figure that the Right will slam it for being partisan and one-sided, without giving equal time to the side that the subjects of the film frequently calls "terrorists." These points are all valid but can't be held against the film. It makes no apologies for its agenda.

After Tiller inserts itself into the debate by giving a voice to those that are among the most marginalized: the last four remaining doctors that provide late-term abortions and their patients that choose to undergo this controversial procedure. The title comes from the fact that only four of these doctors remain in the country after the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in 2009. These doctors are left to live their lives and perform their duties almost entirely in the shadows, under the constant threat of violence on them and their families.

Instead of being a bullet-points memo, directors Martha Shane and Lana Wilson use the camera to focus on the lives of these doctors. Three of them worked with the late Dr. Tiller and all four are bound by a sense of duty to these women in need; a resolve that was only galvanized by Tiller's murder. These two men and two women work as pariahs within their communities and under the constant threat of violence.

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After Tiller is at its most effective when it documents their interactions with their patients. The patients' faces are never shown, but the anguish is obvious in the voices and nervous hands of these women—and their male partners, sometimes—that must make the difficult decision of whether or not to undergo the procedure. With so much of the debate on abortion spent on television and in the halls of government by men in suits yelling at each other, After Tiller is an important document of the voices that have no platform but need it the most.

After Tiller opens at the Nuart today and runs for a week. Director Lana Wilson will be holding Q&As after screenings through the weekend, including a sold-out benefit screening for the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistant Project (WRRAP) tomorrow at 7:30 PM. NARAL LA will moderate the Q&A after the Saturday 7:30 PM screening.

Carman Tse is a native of Northern California but not one of Those Guys that hates on Los Angeles (despite his affection for the Giants over the Dodgers). When he's not sharing long-winded thoughts on movies, he's probably sharing long-winded thoughts on baseball or reading about weird sea creatures.