HeavyBurdenIn 2009, physician George Tiller was murdered in his church by Pro-Life activists who refused to accept that 3rd Trimester Abortions could ever be justified. This is an important story about the 4 physicians in the USA who continue to provide these services in their own clinics, but unfortunately it just preaches to the already converted. (JLH: 3/5)

Click HERE for out FF2 Haiku. NOT YET SEEN BY RICH.

Q: Does this film pass the Bechdel Test? Yes!


When an issue is really important to me, I find I hold documentary films about the issue to a high standard.

I’m feeling the need to say this in so many words because it’s possible that I cut too much slack when I see documentary films on subjects that are new to me. Perhaps someone who knew more about SeaWorld before going in to see Blackfish, for example, was not nearly as impressed as I was coming out of Blackfish. The truth is, I knew very little about SeaWorld before I saw Blackfish, so almost everything in Blackfish was new to me. Was I too easily impressed by the narrative abilities of the Blackfish team? Who knows? Obviously not me…

But I know a great deal about Abortion Rights. This is an issue that has deeply concerned me over the entire course of my adult life. So it grieves me to say this, but I just don’t think After Tiller, the new doc by Martha Shane and Lana Wilson, is a very good film.

After Tiller takes its title from the monstrous murder of physician George Tiller. On Sunday, May 31, 2009, Dr. Tiller was assassinated inside the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas while he was serving as an usher. From my POV, it doesn’t get more hypocritical than that–people who call themselves “Pro-Life” supporting the murder of a man while he is in church–but then I’m “Pro-Choice,” so I guess that view is to be expected from me.

After Tiller is primarily concerned with what has happened to Abortion Rights in the USA since George Tiller’s murder.  From the POV of the Pro-Choice community, the news is bleak. Only three clinics in the entire USA now provide abortion services for women in their third trimester: three clinics staffed by four physicians (two men and two women) and all of them nearing the end of their years in practice.

Shane & Wilson place their cameras in the backs of their examining rooms–determined to remain as unobtrusive as humanly possible–while patients tell tragic tales to the four physicians. In most cases medical tests late in pregnancy have revealed severe birth defects. In the absence of an abortion, once the child is born, life expectancy in all cases is expected to be brief, but pain and suffering for the infant and its family will be intense.

We never see the faces of the pregnant women, we only hear their words. What we do see are the faces of the four compassionate physicians, listening attentively, and dispensing hugs and tissues. They are our heroes.

All of the information presented in After Tiller is is extremely important–certainly to me–yet there was nothing in After Tiller that I didn’t already know, and I suspect most people who identify with the Pro-Choice position will feel the same way.

But I sincerely doubt that people who consider themselves Pro-Life will be convinced by anything in After Tiller. For every case we see, there is sure to be a counter-example somewhere in the literature, some reason to believe that these physicians do what they do because it is lucrative. (Bill O’Reilly, on his Fox News show The O’Reilly Factor, referred to Dr. Tiller on air as “Tiller the Baby Killer,” explicitly made an issue of his fees, and called his clinic “Tiller’s late-term abortion mill.”)

And what about everyone else? People in the middle–the people who don’t identify as either Pro-Choice or Pro-Life–will they come to see After Tiller? I doubt it.

It’s not that I doubt the sincerity of everyone involved, and in this case patient confidentiality is required to shield the women from the kind of harassment all of the physicians and the staff members in their clinics face everyday. But here’s my problem: filmmakers Shane & Wilson have made a film about an urgent topic that lacks all sense of urgency. I suppose they felt the shouting was already too loud on both sides, so they decided take the opposite route. But the film they have made is so low-key (and so filled with annoyingly soft New Age background music) that it’s almost soporific.

Just because an issue is really “important,” that doesn’t necessarily mean a film about it is “good.” Sadly, in this case, I just can’t recommend After Tiller.


Top Photo: Bearing the heavy burden of continuing to provide services to women seeking to terminate their pregnancies for medical reasons.

Bottom Photo: Relentless protests in front of one of the few remaining abortion clinics.

Photo Credits: Oscilloscope Pictures

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