‘After Tiller’: The Lives of the Last Late-Term Abortion Doctors


On May 31, 2009, Dr. George Tiller was shot to death during a church service in Wichita, Kansas.  Dr. Tiller was one of only five doctors in the United States who performed abortions after the 20thweek of pregnancy.  Now, there are four, and the documentary After Tiller examines their lives and livelihoods in the wake of Dr. Tiller’s death.

These four doctors are regularly harassed by people who proclaim themselves “pro-life,” yet have no qualms about killing – or celebrating those who do the killing – of abortion providers.  The film asks them why they choose to put themselves in harm’s way, why they choose to make themselves social pariahs.  Over the course of the 85-minute run-time, we learn about how these doctors’ lives have been threatened (death threats are a regular part of their daily life), how their livelihoods are impacted (one doctor was forced to relocate after his state outlawed late-term abortions, and he had an extremely difficult time finding a landlord who would rent to him), and how their personal lives suffer as a result of the trials they endure.  That they choose to stand up for their belief that they are providing a needed service and continue their practice in the face of such overwhelming opposition is nothing short of miraculous.

The film uses interviews and footage from consultations with patients to provide a look into the lives of the four doctors.  It’s no secret that abortion is a politically charged topic, but many people, including the doctors who perform them, treat late-term abortions as much more serious than abortions conducted at the beginning of a pregnancy.  As is detailed in the film, the late-term abortion procedure is fundamentally different from the procedure done earlier in a pregnancy, and the line between “life” and “not life” becomes extremely hazy.  But the facts remain that pregnancy is still a function of a woman’s body, and there are numerous reasons why women choose to get abortions, even at such a late stage of the pregnancy.  In one of the most emotionally powerful interviews in the film, one of the doctors states that she believes that she is working with babies, not fetuses, but that the physical and mental health of the mother outweighs the viability of the baby.

Because that is why these doctors do what they do: the health of the mother.  As the anti-choice crowd so often forgets, the health of the mother, both physical and mental, often hangs in the balance when deciding whether or not to get an abortion.  After Tiller’s use of footage from patient consultations proves again and again that abortion is one of the hardest choices women will ever make.  The film shows women who are torn apart by the decision.  The stigma placed upon the procedure by our society certainly doesn’t help with the decision.  These consultation scenes hammer home the importance of the doctors’ work; although the doctors are the subject of the documentary, the most emotionally powerful scenes are the consultations, highlighting why the doctors have made their decisions to continue their work.

After Tiller certainly won’t change any minds about the morality of abortion.  But it is a powerful piece of filmmaking, reminding those of us who support a woman’s right to choose why that right is so important, and how fragile that right is.  Four doctors in the entire country have the necessary training to perform a procedure that is necessary, if not desired, by some women.  And there are many out there working to change that number to zero.

Charity Cases

Facepalm_girl-300x199To be charitable is to give without an expectation of something in return.  While giving to charitable organizations in exchange for nothing more than the warm feeling you get when you’ve helped others is something everyone should do at least once in their life, that is not to say that it is wrong to give to charitable organizations in exchange for some kind of reward.  Charity auctions are great ways to entice people who might not otherwise donate, and many charities give small goods as incentives for people to donate (tote bags being the product that jumps to my mind, having grown up watching PBS).  But sometimes we forget that the purpose of charity is to help others, not satisfy our own desires.  For example, look no further than to this new story about a group of pickup artists promising to donate money to breast cancer charities in exchange for women allowing these boys to “motorboat” them.

The group, known as Simple Pickup, creates videos “explaining” how to “pick up” women (there aren’t enough sarcastic quotation marks in the world for that clause).  The videos are full of examples of battery, including kissing, touching, and, yes, even motorboating women without asking permission.  In a video released this week, supposedly in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the boys go up to various women and tell them that they will donate $20 to a breast cancer charity in exchange for the privilege of shoving their faces in the women’s cleavage and making a revving sound.

The boys argue that they’re doing good works, but their comprehension of what constitutes good works leaves much to be desired.  (Same goes for their concept of comedy, which I will get to soon.)  As evidenced by the very first lines of the video (“Do you love boobs?  We sure do!”), the people they truly care about helping are themselves.  They are doing this to satisfy their puerile desire to touch what is, in their eyes, the only part of a woman worth touching.  Raising money is just the avenue through which they fulfill their desire.  The boys also get the added bonus of feeling like they are “sav[ing] some boobs.”  Once again, their own statements belie their intent.  They aren’t here to help women afflicted by a deadly disease, their goal is to ensure their favorite body part remains intact.  (They also pledge to donate money for every 100,000 views on their YouTube page.  “Charity” becomes a vehicle for promoting themselves and their disgusting methods.)

Now, before moving on, I have two things I would like to address.  First, I would love to see the footage of the women who declined their offer.  Second, in a response to charges of sexism and sexual assault, the boys counter that their videos are meant to be funny, and that they “don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable.”  As I said above, their understanding of comedy seems to be lacking.  The art of humor is meant to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable; humor is derived from showing the powerful in an absurdist, humorous light.  So who is the joke on in these videos?  Clearly, it’s on the women, who find themselves touched, groped, and kissed without their consent.  In the motorboating for charity video (I dislike the term motorboating, but am at a loss for one to describe the specific act they are doing), look at how many of the women hide their faces or show expressions of pure annoyance.  These boys put them in the position of either agreeing to let a couple cretins grope them in public or denying money to a “good cause.”  The boys are the ones with the power.  They are the ones who can dictate that random women make their bodies available for the boys’ pleasure by offering a meager benefit in return.

tatas These boys aren’t the only ones who put the emphasis on breasts rather than women in raising awareness about breast cancer.  “Save The Tatas” and other campaigns that sexualize breast cancer suggest that it’s the breasts worth saving rather than the women.  This again feeds back into the skewed power dynamic, in that it shows just how much value our society places on one part of the female body, rather than on women.  But I would argue that Simple Pickup’s activities trump other sexist campaigns in awfulness, because buying a “Save The Tatas” shirt doesn’t involve hesitantly agreeing to let yourself be groped.

(Also, before you accuse me of being sex-negative, arguing that some women like getting motorboated, let me stop you.  I don’t doubt that some women enjoy it.  To each his or her own, and I would be happy to hear all of the women depicted in the ads enjoyed themselves.  But this wasn’t about them.  The boys wanted to satisfy their own urges.  They said at the top that they were doing this because they loved breasts.  As long as they got what they wanted, that was all that mattered.)

And Simple Pickup isn’t the only group that objectifies women to turn them into the reward for being charitable.  Many organizations use sexualization and objectification of women to entice potential donors.  PETA often uses ads that replace animals with women.  They are also responsible for thisunbelievably sexually violent ad.  In this 2008 Guardian article, Julie Bindel lists various events at which famous women have bared all in support of their causes, the most disturbing of which the example of the former Spice Girl posing naked to raise awareness of sex slavery.  I’m not sure whose idea it was to use nudity to denounce sexual slavery, but whoever it was must be missing part of the logic center of his or her brain.  That one of the directors of the charity explained the move by saying that the woman was “exercising her freedom of choice” to go naked, unlike the enslaved women they work with only further underlines the disconnect.  The Spice Girl may not be a sex slave, but her “choice” to go naked is the result of a society placing value on her body rather than her whole self.  The reason her nudity helps “support the cause” is because those with money have demanded it.

Many people who donate money to charity require some kind of value in return.  We as a society have determined that exchangeable value includes women’s bodies.  Charitable organizations are well aware that people will pay money to see naked women, and they have used that knowledge to entice donations.  After all, who wants a crappy tote bag when you could look at naked famous women?