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Reproductive Rights in America Have Gotten Worse After Tiller

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November 12, 2013

I know enough about abortion politics in this country, but I still didn’t know what to expect going in to see the movie After Tiller. For anyone planning on seeing it, and I urge everyone to see it, you might want to bring a some tissues.

After Tiller is a documentary film that looks at late term abortion in the aftermath of Dr. George Tiller’s murder. The movie follows the four remaining doctors who perform all of the late term abortions in America. Dr. Tiller performed late term abortions in his clinic in Kansas. He was murdered in church by the anti-choice extremist Scott Roeder in May of 2009. Dr. Tiller was performing usher duties at Reformation Lutheran Church when Roeder walked in, shot and killed him. In an article after the shooting, the New York Times reported that Dr. Tiller had long been a  target for extremists.

A provider of abortions for more than three decades, Dr. Tiller, 67, had become a focal point for those around the country who opposed it. In addition to protests outside his clinic, his house and his church, Dr. Tiller had once seen his clinic bombed. In 1993, an abortion opponent shot him in both arms. He was also the defendant in a series of legal challenges intended to shut down his operations, including two grand juries that were convened after citizen-led petition drives.

The threats to the lives of these doctors and the health care professionals who work in reproductive health remains after Dr. Tiller’s murder. The newsletters and websites that call for the assassinations of doctors and the bombing of clinics still remain with us. Anti-abortion militancy did not die with the murder of Dr. Tiller.

The opening scenes of After Tiller are of a woman calling 911 to report the murder. Four years and the relative comfort of a movie theater did not make watching that scene easy. I know I wasn’t the only one in tears if the sniffles I heard from the other people in theater were any indication. The movie then introduces us to the four remaining late term abortion providers in America. These four doctors are “not getting any younger” as Bitch Flicks reviewer Max Thornton put it. One of the doctors, Susan Robinson, exclaims during the movie that she cannot retire because they’re not enough of them.

That is what I found so alarming about the world we live in after Tiller. The fact that currently, there are no doctors to take over should these four decide to retire.  And it’s not just a matter of training new young doctors or midwives, although that would help. There’s the issue of many landlords refusing to rent to reproductive health care providers who are not Crisis Pregnancy Centers. In the movie, a landlord who rents space to Dr. Carhart to practice is harassed by everyone from anti-choice protesters (they send him threatening letters and phone calls and also protest outside the school of his kid) to elected officials. And even if a provider did manage to find space, they would still have to navigate the state specific regulations regarding clinics. Since the murder of Dr. Tiller, dozens of anti choice legislation have been passed by states all over the country. Increasingly more of the legislation seeks to shut down clinics by passing ridiculous and rigid regulations that regulate the buildings within which clinicians operate. These regulations or  TRAP laws as they are known, are gaining traction nationwide. From the Center For Reproductive Rights:

“TRAP” (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws single out the medical practices of doctors who provide abortions, and impose on them requirements that are different and more burdensome than those imposed on other medical practices. For example, such regulations may require that abortions be performed in far more sophisticated and expensive facilities than are necessary to ensure the provision of safe procedures. Compliance with these physical plant requirements may require extensive renovations or be physically impossible in existing facilities. TRAP laws may also allow unannounced state inspections, even when patients are present. These excessive and unnecessary government regulations – an ever-growing trend among state legislatures – increase the cost and scarcity of abortion services, harming women’s health and inhibiting their reproductive choices.

According to the Center’s analysis, TRAP laws typically fall into three categories: health facility licensing schemes, ambulatory surgical center requirements, and hospitalization requirements. Some states employ all three. Ohio welcomed our very own TRAP laws this summer via Governor John Kasich’s budget!

It was very infuriating watching Dr. Carhart and his landlord navigate through the protesters and bureaucratic red tape that seek to shut them down before they even open. Reproductive rights before Dr. Tiller’s was not great but it has certainly gotten worse after his murder.

Since 2009 there have been record numbers of abortion restriction laws passed. 2011 holds the dubious distinction as the year of the abortion restrictions. Late term abortions, the subject of this movie, continue to be under attack. Laws restricting late term abortions seem to pop up every month. The fact that these restrictions violate Roe v Wade hasn’t stopped the states from passing them. Some highlights of late term abortion restrictions include banning abortions after a certain point in pregnancy, imposing prohibitions in the third trimester, requiring that a second physician certify that the abortion is medically necessary in all or some circumstances and imposing prohibitions at fetal viability.

Sometimes I forget that abortion is still legal  in this country. If it is how can they pass all these restrictions and get away with it? How are any of the actions of these legislators legal? Does anyone care about the consent of women and pregnant people?

After Tiller was a difficult movie for me to watch. It was yet another reminder of my second class citizenship and my lack of bodily autonomy as a woman. It managed to scare me better than any horror movie. It is an important movie that must be seen. If anything, it is a reminder of the work that needs to be done. Not that you need a reminder.



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