Last night I watched After Tiller for the first time ever. I know, I know…I just haven’t been in the right mindset to watch it before now. I was pretty sure that what I was going to see was compassionate doctors and heartbreaking stories of fetal anomalies and clinic/provider harassment. Hard to choose that over Parks and Rec, Lost Girl and rewatching Buffy and…
Anyway, that’s pretty much what After Tiller was, so for someone who’s familiar with abortion care there weren’t a lot of surprises. WE KNOW why people seek third trimester abortions. WE KNOW that doctors and clinics are subjects of harassment. WE KNOW that the doctors who do this work are caring and compassionate human beings.
But there were a couple of takeaways for me, someone who is familiar with the previous facts:
First, they’re so old.
The four doctors in this country who do third term abortions are So. Old. They should be able to retire, to enjoy time with their friends, families and hobbies. But there are four of them in the entire United States. FOUR doctors.
It takes so long and is so expensive and comes with so much all-consuming work to go through medical school in the US. And it’s so hard to find abortion training once you’re in a program. We’re demanding that someone go through all of the work of gaining the required medical degree and to then take an under-paid, under-respected position, to become the subject of smear campaigns, vitriol, and harassment, to have their life examined and dissected by hostile parties, to literally put their life on the line. To make their families and communities targets. It requires so much sacrifice to be an abortion provider after so much has already been sacrificed just to get through medical school.
Second, the doctors who provide third term abortions are human beings and heroes.
I knew this before, of course, but watching the doctors’ struggles drove it home. Watching them wanting to help people who they couldn’t help was heartbreaking. Seeing their personal stories of loss was infuriating. Looking at their tired eyes and their face rubbing during hard decisions was honestly more wrenching for me than were the stories of wanted pregnancies developing fatal anomalies.
One of the doctors was very adamant that she doesn’t abort fetuses – she aborts babies. She aborts babies that have already died in utero. She aborts babies who will not survive delivery, who will not live for long after birth, or who will have an extremely low quality of life. She aborts babies that will kill or damage the people who are carrying them. She aborts babies because it’s the right thing to do. But at the third trimester she doesn’t abort fetuses or tissue – she aborts babies.
As a “any abortion, any time!” advocate, it’s hard for me to say “baby,” to describe a fetus, but I’ve always stood by the idea that a parent has the final right to the language that they apply to a pregnancy. And the same goes for doctors. Often I hear “baby” for wanted pregnancies and “fetus” for unwanted pregnancies. But “baby” is just a descriptive word, one that has become emotionally charged because of the efforts of anti-abortion foes. And the word “baby” doesn’t change my mind about “any abortion, any time” any more than does the word “human.” And it doesn’t change my mind that the one who is pregnant can say “the fetus or person inside of me won’t be allowed to use my body anymore.” That’s right, I said person. Because even if a fetus were to be declared a person (plz no), we – as autonomous individuals who can get pregnant – still have a right to say “STOP – I DON’T CONSENT TO YOUR USE OF MY BODY.”
Anyway. If you want to learn more about third trimester abortions, clinicians and clinics, watch After Tiller (if like me it’s taken you almost three years to get around to it). It will get you thinking.