When conservatives talk about their idea of a woman who needs access to contraception and/or abortion services, she is always poor, uneducated, promiscuous, and irresponsible. By painting this image, they make it easy for women to distance themselves from each other. Not only is the debate around restrictions on birth control and abortion gendered, it also becomes classed. We stop caring that these restrictions impact all women on some level because we tell ourselves, “Well, I am not like ‘that’, so I do not care if that woman has access to the services she needs.” Furthermore, this picture of the woman who is “poor, uneducated, promiscuous, and irresponsible” is also how conservatives have historically stereotyped Black Women. Thus, this image is gendered, class-specific, and racialized. And I would argue that so are their restrictions on reproductive health services.
Conservatives’ obsession with limiting access to birth control and abortion is one that affects all women. But their reasoning also lets me know they are, indeed, targeting Black Women. It is time that Black Women become more vocal about our right to make decisions about our bodies, sexualities, and reproductive choices without interference or regulation from others. In the same way that we are speaking up about their right to define ourselves and narrate our own lives, we must also be vocal about reproductive justice.
Conservative politicians are willingly endangering their constituents over junk science and their personal religious beliefs.
(From the top left clockwise: Dr. Susan Robinson, Dr. Shelly Sella, Dr. LeRoy Carhart and Dr. Warren Hern)
By: Skylar G.
Dr. George Tiller was assassinated during church service on Sunday, May 31st, 2009, where he was serving as an usher. He was fatally shot in the eye by a militant anti-abortion activist. Tiller had worn body armor since 1998 because of this very reason, because he was one of five late term abortion providers in the United States. After Tiller’s untimely and tragic death, the four remaining late-term abortion providers in the United States scrambled to stay safe while still continuing with their medical practices. Despite mounting TRAP laws and protesters, doctors LeRoy Carhart, Warren Hern, Shelley Sella, Susan Robinson still keep their clinics open, providing late-term abortions for people throughout the country. Even though only nine states allow abortions past 25-weeks, these abortions account for only 1% of the abortions performed in the United States.
Martha Shane and Lana Wilson’s 2013 documentary After Tiller provides a perspective that is often neglected within the debate around late term abortions: the voices of actual doctors . This film humanizes both the procedure as well as those who perform it.
At the beginning we learn each of the doctors’ stories, we hear the patients’ stories, and we see the protesters and the many hurdles and violence that these doctors face:
Dr. Carhart was in medical school before Roe v. Wade was legalized, and was inspired to be an abortion provider after he saw a woman, who, in a desperate attempt to end her pregnancy, perforated her cervix with a chopstick.
Dr. Sella was initially an OB/GYN and a midwife and started her work with Dr. Tiller himself after he presented at a conference, saying “the woman’s body knows more than the doctor” and she responded by telling him that’s essentially what midwifery is. He immediately offered her a job.
Dr. Hern was practicing medicine in Brazil, and noticed that there was one ward of women recovering from childbirth, and two wards of women recovering from botched illegal abortions. Currently, Dr. Hern practices in Colorado.
The cameras followed the doctors into every part of their clinics, from counseling rooms to offices to the rooms where the surgeries are performed. The cameras are there as a fly on the wall, in counseling when one woman told Dr. Hern how during her 25-week ultrasound, the doctor discovered that her baby would only live two or three years, and that she would be incapable of holding her baby because her bones would be too fragile and break.
Another woman told Dr. Sella that her baby was missing its entire corpus callosum, an essential part of the brain. Dr. Robinson was told by one of her patients that her baby would only learn up to twenty-five words and would be vegetative.
Dr. Hern provided an abortion for a woman who was raped.
These stories are heartbreaking and you can almost feel the pain of these women as you hear them cry and see their hands constantly wringing and fidgeting with their Kleenex.
You can hear the nurses explain to the women that this isn’t a vacuum procedure like earlier term abortions are— that instead they will essentially be delivering a stillborn baby. Dr. Robinson in particular had a client whose baby had no chance of living outside the womb, so they made the heartbreaking decision to have the procedure, even though they had a nursery built and a name picked. At the end, you can hear the patient thanking Dr. Robinson because when she held her baby after the procedure, just by looking at him she could tell that he wasn’t healthy.
The film also focuses on the opposition, filming the protesters outside of the clinic who pray with rosaries and graphic pictures of alleged aborted fetuses, calling these doctors “baby killers,” and even going as far as to protest outside the open house of the elementary school where Dr. Carhart’s landlord’s children attend school in an effort to intimidate him to not allow Dr. Carhart to rent from him.
Dr. Hern described how he used to sleep with a rifle underneath his pillow. Dr. Carhart’s barn was burned down and killed 21 horses. These doctors live in constant fear and danger, with people angling for them to be killed.
The most impactful part of the film was hearing the doctors discuss their feelings regarding their careers. Dr. Robinson said that when she was practicing in Wichita, Kansas, the state law stated that these women had to give a sound reason as to why they were seeking the procedure, and after they arrived in Kansas, they would have to give their story a second time to another doctor for a second opinion. Robinson stated that she trusts people to make moral, ethical decisions about their own bodies and that “nobody wants a fucking abortion. They do it out of necessity”. She describes her and Dr. Sella’s clinic as a “court of last resort”. Dr. Sella doesn’t call the babies “fetuses”. She acknowledges that these are babies who for one reason or another, were too sick to live in the world.
Ultimately, this is one of the most poignant documentaries I have ever seen and is a must-see for anybody interested in reproductive justice. This documentary takes a highly contested profession and procedure and shows the humanity behind it. While I highly doubt anti-choice people will watch this documentary, I truly believe they should because shows that these doctors don’t just perform these abortions because they can, especially after hearing these women’s stories.
The taboo of discussing late-term abortions needs to disappear, as does the idea that these abortions are easy decisions for these women to make. They’re not, and we as a society need to have compassion for these women and these brave doctors who risk their lives performing a services that, at the root of it, is a public health issue.
Right-wing media capitalized on the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling with the refrain that the so-called ‘war on women’ is nonexistent, a bizarre take on a decision that relied on conservative talking points to deal a devastating blow to women’s rights and health access.
Read more via Media Matters