After Tiller

Dir. Martha Shane and Lana Wilson

Status: COMPLETED
2013

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Director Martha Shane and Lana Wilson
Completed 2013 Runtime 85


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SYNOPSIS

Since the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas in May 2009, there are only four American doctors left who provide third-trimester abortions. After Tiller paints a complex, compassionate portrait of these physicians—Dr. LeRoy Carhart, Dr. Warren Hern, Dr. Susan Robinson and Dr. Shelley Sella—who have become the new number-one targets of the anti-abortion movement, yet continue to risk their lives every day to do work that many believe is murder, but which they believe is profoundly important for their patients’ lives. The film weaves together revealing, in-depth interviews with the doctors with intimate vérité scenes from their lives and inside their clinics, where they counsel and care for their anxious, vulnerable patients at an important crossroads in their lives. By sharing the moving stories of several of these patients, After Tiller illuminates the experiences of women who seek late abortions and the reasons why they do so.

LONG SYNOPSIS

Dr. George Tiller of Wichita, Kansas, was a faithful churchgoer and a father of four. He was also one of the only doctors in the country who performed third-trimester abortions for women, and in 2009, he became the eighth American abortion clinic worker to be assassinated since Roe v. Wade. With his death, there are now only four doctors in the country who provide late abortions. After Tiller moves between the stories of these four doctors—two men and two women—all of whom were close friends and colleagues of Dr. Tiller, and are fighting to keep this service available in the wake of his death.

At the center of this story is Dr. LeRoy Carhart, an Air Force veteran who decided to start providing third-trimester abortions at his clinic in rural Bellevue, Nebraska, after Dr. Tiller’s death. In response, the Nebraska state legislature passed a new law that prohibits all abortions after twenty weeks into a pregnancy, forcing Dr. Carhart to look for a clinic space outside of the state. After protestors in Iowa blocked his efforts to open a new practice there, he finally found a clinic where he could work in Germantown, Maryland—but anti-abortion protestors immediately converged, with the goal of kicking Dr. Carhart out forever.

In the meantime, 74-year-old Dr. Warren Hern, a longtime late abortion provider in Boulder, Colorado, struggles to reconcile a family life he wants to fully embrace with a demanding career that endangers his life and the lives of those around him. After threats and harassment from protestors led to the unraveling of his first marriage, Dr. Hern was lonely and isolated until meeting his new wife, Odalys, herself a former abortion provider from Cuba, and adopting her nine-year-old son Fernando. Now that he finally has the family he always wanted, though, he is discovering the severe toll his work takes on his personal life, and must find out if it’s even possible for these two things to peacefully co-exist.

Finally, we meet Dr. Susan Robinson and Dr. Shelley Sella, two female abortion providers who used to work with Dr. Tiller in Kansas, but were left without jobs when Dr. Tiller’s clinic closed after his death. After finding a new place to work in Albuquerque, New Mexico, these women soon realized that they had moved to a very different legal landscape. In Kansas, an outside physician had to approve every decision to give a woman a third-trimester abortion, while in New Mexico, the final decision is left entirely up to the doctor. As a result, these two doctors are now facing complicated new moral terrain, and Dr. Robinson in particular grapples with this situation. As the sole decider of which patients truly need late abortions while she is on-duty at the clinic, she must learn how to evaluate patients’ stories and make her decisions accordingly. At the same time, Dr. Sella, a former midwife, struggles with the nature of the work itself, and with how to develop a moral calculus that takes both the situation of the patient and the potential life of the fetus into account.

After Tiller follows these four doctors as they confront a host of obstacles—from moral and personal dilemmas to restrictions placed on their practices by state legislation. Rather than trying to take a comprehensive look at the heated political debate surrounding abortion, the film weaves together revealing, in-depth interviews with the doctors with intimate vérité scenes from their lives and inside their clinics, where they counsel and care for their anxious, vulnerable patients at a profoundly important crossroads in their lives. For all these doctors, the memory of Dr. Tiller remains a constant presence in their lives, serving both as an inspiration to persevere in helping women, and a warning of the risks they take by doing so.

Outreach Work Supported

Event based screenings, tour of medical schools.


What people
have said

The story of four women and their attempts to uphold abortion rights in the US makes for compelling, if horrifying viewing.

Little White Lies

"After Tiller" does viewers the great service of providing light where there's usually only heat, giving a human face and heart to what previously might have been an abstract issue or quickly scanned news item.

Washington Post
Watch the
trailer here

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