The assassination of Dr. George Tiller while at church in Wichita, Kansas in 2009 brought abortion rights into sharp and horrible focus. Tiller’s clinic, Women’s Health Care Services, one of only three clinics nationwide to provide late-term abortions at the time. After his death, Tiller’s clinic closed.
After Tiller follows the lives of the last four remaining doctors in the United States who perform late-term abortions, those in which the fetus is over 25 weeks old. Two of these doctors who worked with Dr. Tiller at his Wichita clinic — Dr. Shelley Sella, and Dr. Susan Robinson — begin working at a clinic in New Mexico. Meanwhile, Tiller’s friend, Dr.Warren Hern continues to maintain his practice in Boulder, Colorado, and Nebraska-based Dr. LeRoy Carhart is eventually forced out of Nebraska by legislation.
Our guests, filmmakers Martha Shane and Lana Wilson explore the lives of these four doctors–their histories, their practices and what led them to perform third trimester abortions, which account for only 1% of all abortions performed in the United States. Many of the patients who come to these doctors have fetuses which suffer from severe abnormalities. Others are women who are unable to care for a child. The onus of accepting the patient falls on the doctors, and there are times they say no.
Every day these doctors risk their lives to perform abortions and provide family planning (their practices are not solely third-trimester abortions). The day of the passage of the Nebraska Parental Notification Law, fires broke out on Carhart’s property, burning his home and a stable. Two family pets and twenty-one horses were killed. Carhart states that he received a letter likening the deaths of his animals to the “murder of children.” The doctor who had a walk-in/urgent care clinic switched to abortions-only, saying he would not
cede victory to the antis
Dr. Hern’s first marriage broke up over the pressures of being targeted by anti-choice radicals. Now remarried, with a stepson, he is taking stock of his practice and his future. Dr. Shelley Sella and Dr. Susan Robinson alternate at at a women’s clinic in New Mexico, traveling away from their spouses and facing the reality that they too could be killed.
All four of these doctors know they are the final stop for women carrying babies with fetal abnormalities that appear in the final trimester. The stories are heart-breaking, babies missing half their brains, babies with diseases that will condemn them to a brief life of pain, surgeries, and other medical procedures.
After Tiller is a compassionate look at the right to choose and those who work to maintain that right, despite personal peril.
After Tiller, which airs on PBS POV beginning September 1st, won the Candescent Award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.