‘After Tiller’ tries to set the record straight on late-term abortions

Dr. Warren Hern, one of the last doctors performing late-term abortions in America, is shown talking to a patient in "After Tiller." Credit: Josh Luxenberg
Dr. Warren Hern, one of the last doctors performing late-term abortions in America, is shown talking to a patient in “After Tiller.”
Credit: Josh Luxenberg

‘After Tiller’
Directors: Martha Shane and Lana Wilson
Genre: Documentary
Rating: PG-13
3 (out of 5) Globes

Films on abortion usually feel compelled to argue for one side over other. “After Tiller” isn’t like that. Concerning the few (read: four) facilities in the United States that still perform late-term abortions — particularly in the wake of the 2009 murder of George Tiller — it features occasional cutaways to protesters. But it does not engage them. It doesn’t necessarily have to. The focus of the film is a narrow one, namely to set the record straight on late-term abortions and show that those who perform them aren’t the unfathomable monsters as portrayed by their detractors.

Adopting an approach that’s part cinema verite, part casual polemic, “After Tiller” portrays the few staffers as unfailingly gentle and, of course, brave in the face of insistent, sometimes violent opposition. The controversial procedure isn’t, as the film portrays, indifferent to human life but about saving it. Those who seek the operation often find that the life of the baby will be in jeopardy; one couple shown even talk about wanting to have their baby, even going so far as to have set up a bedroom. Others are simply unable or unprepared to care for their children. No one takes it lightly. As one employee points out, there are only a few options for parents seeking late-term abortions. “And they all suck,” she says.

Directors Martha Shane and Lana Wilson mostly sit with the staffers, including the doctors — all getting up in years — as they deal with managing their facilities, weighed down by knowing they could one day hand over their lives to madmen. There’s a heaviness to the film; the people who perform late-term abortions have to contend with constant bombardment, plus death everywhere they see. But they don’t seek pity — just someone to understand that what they do is markedly different than the one version offered by the practice’s opponents.

Honestly, “After Tiller” could stand to engage a bit with the anti-abortion side, if only because the film, perhaps inevitably, winds up with a certain flatness. It wants to show what late-term abortion is, why those who perform it do it, and that’s it. It’s not propaganda, per se, but it is one-note. Any time it spends with the doctors and staffers shows the even deeper, even more human film it only sporadically is.


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