After Tiller Review (Film, 2013)

After TillerAfter Tiller is a documentary focused on the handful of late term abortion providers left in the US after the murder of Dr. George Tiller. If you're not familiar with the story, Dr. George Tiller was targeted for years by anti-abortion activists until he was murdered during Sunday service at his church. His murderer volunteered as an usher and shot him through the eye. He fully confessed to his crime and believed he was morally correct to murder Dr. Tiller for being an abortion doctor. Instead of discouraging doctors from providing this service, Dr. Tiller's tragic death actually encouraged more providers to commit to this procedure in their own practices. After Tiller follows these doctors as they discuss the impact Dr. Tiller had on their lives, why they continue to provide this women's health service, what precautions they have to take to protect themselves from potentially violent protesters, and how they decide which patients are actually good patients for the procedure.

Frankly, it is this last thread that is the most compelling part of the film. Directors Martha Shane and Lana Wilson get heart-wrenching footage of the doctors discussing options with patients. The patients remain anonymous, with their heads cropped out of the frame or blurred if necessary. We hear their voices, but we do not see their physical reaction to the procedure (besides some hand holding).

The doctors get full focus here. We watch them and their office partners discuss whether or not a potential patient is a good fit for a late term abortion. Many of the patients in the film are turned down for various psychological and physical reasons. The connection between all the stories is the doctor expressly telling the patient adoption is the best option if there is no danger to the life of the baby or the mother. If there is no danger to the baby and it's a financial or moral concern for the mother, the doctors spend a lot of time pushing the patients to explain why adoption or keeping the baby is not a good option. These doctors are obviously willing to perform the procedure, but they do not want to pressure any potential patient into going through with it if they have any doubts.

After Tiller does not spend a lot of time looking at anti-abortion activists, but the few that are shown do not demonstrate the compassion or understanding the doctors demonstrate in the film. They either stand stoically with graphic and misleading posters outside of a clinic, scream at women enter the clinics in an effort to fill them with doubt, or actively campaign against abortion by citing the death of Dr. Tiller as a reason to prevent them. Not in a "protect doctors, don't put them in this position way," but in a "he got what was coming to him praise Jesus" kind of way.

One doctor's story is actually an extended series of mishaps as he attempts to move his practice from Nebraska, which still has a law on the books threatening abortion providers with jail time if they work with any patient past the 20 week point, to anywhere else that it's legal. One town, nay one state, actually passes new laws to prevent him from coming in (crowing about Dr. Tiller's death during the town hall debate). Another attempt results in televised preachers and megachurch owners claiming God was on their side when Dr. Tiller was murdered and God will provide for them again in preventing any new facility offering late term abortion from opening.

After Tiller is an intense documentary. It is difficult to watch. Shane and Wilson keep their focus squarely on the doctors directly connected to Dr. Tiller. They do not cast judgment against the patients or the peaceful protesters. Anyone with a negative edit in the film, frankly, brought it on themselves with extreme rhetoric and support of violence and murder. The film is a nuanced examination of a hot button issue from the perspective of the experts who actually perform the procedure.

After Tiller can currently be streamed on Netflix. 

Horror Thursday: Pulse

Wes Craven (1939-2015)