After Tiller (Review)


85 min

United States

Director: Martha Shane, Lana Wilson

Writer: Greg O'Toole, Martha Shane, Lana Wilson

Stars: LeRoy Carhart, Warren Hern, Shelley Sella, and Susan Robinson

Release Date: January 18, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival)

Nobody wants an abortion. Many do not even want to talk about it. For those reasons After Tiller is a must-see documentary for us all.


After Tiller is an intimate look into the abortion clinics that specialize in late-term abortions, some of which take place during the third trimester. The title refers to this scene over the last few years, specifically after Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider, was shot and killed by an anti-abortion extremist. The nurses and doctors on display knew Tiller personally, some even studied over his shoulder. They bear a sadness from the very beginning. Partly because of Tiller, partly in fear for their own lives and that of their family, but mostly because day in and day out they deal with saddened expectant mothers who for one reason or another have found themselves at this point in life.

Filmmakers Martha Shane and Lana Wilson bring us this touching and dwelling documentary about the men and women that so many people have painted horns and a tail upon in their mind. In reality they are thoughtful, caring and ordinary-looking people. Their patients are captured carefully. We never see their faces so as to respect their privacy, but in their sit-down conversations with the doctors the lens is focus upon tissue-clutching hands over protruding bellies. One mother, with a very sick baby inside, points out, "It's guilt no matter which way you go."

Late-term abortions are the most controversial of the pact due to the developed, and is some cases, viable fetus. I'd argue that this also makes these cases among the more grieving. In many cases these babies were planned on and prepared for, but due to health reasons an abortion comes professionally recommended. Other cases are the result of months of denial, more months of heart-wracking torment, only to come to this desperate decision. One patient is a 16-year-old girl. The doctor sums up her limited options and declares, "Those are your choices. They all suck."

No matter your stance on abortion this is a documentary worth your time and consideration. It's not fair and balanced, that's often hard to come by and may be nigh near impossible with as heated an issue as this. Scenes of protesters and church-assembling crowds are set over menacing pieces of music. A red neon crucifix is shot in the dead of night at a canted angle. Filmmaking is always manipulation and it's employed here to make us sympathize with abortion patients and their providers and more or less vilify those who oppose. It may be merited from their viewpoint, after all, this is all after Tiller.

The film puts its best foot forward when it merely observes those outside clinics holding signs, saying prayers and attempting to talk pregnant women out of this decision. One man holds a sign which reads, "Men regret lost fatherhood." Even though we're looking at him from afar it's clear he's holding it with personal experience. While it's often placed in one of two camps, After Tiller further pressed upon my mind that abortion is far from a black and white issue and for that reason alone it's of great worth.

Unless people understand what’s going on for the woman it’s impossible to support it.
— Shelley Stella