Dr. Lauren Streicher, an assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University's medical school, does not provide third-trimester abortions but said, "In my career, there have been times when I've had to tell women this desperately-desired pregnancy has not gone well. These are babies that have congenital abnormalities that are incompatible with life -- no hope, no brain, no kidneys, something that is not surgically fixable."
In an academic, urban center, Streicher says she can refer her patients to doctors at a family planning clinic who do provide third-trimester abortions, but are not as public as the four doctors in "After Tiller," whose patients often find them via the Internet and who need financial help from organizations such as the National Abortion Federation.
Women whose fetuses have terrible abnormalities, Robinson said, "are a lot easier for people to understand. The husband and wife want to spare their baby whatever suffering that baby would have."
"Then there's the group of women who didn't know they were pregnant," she said. "They were told they were not pregnant for one reason or another and they are just as desperate. 'I already have three children, my husband just lost his job and I can barely put food on the table. If I add a new baby to this family, we'll all go under.'"
"After Tiller" follows the four doctors past the anti-abortion protesters who regularly stand outside their clinics. It shows Drs. Robinson and Sella in Albuquerque; Dr. Warren Hern in Boulder, Colo.; and it shows Germantown, Md., where LeRoy Carhart recently set up a practice. The camera never shows the faces of the patients, but instead shows hands fidgeting in laps, boxes of tissues being consumed, voices quaking, lots of crying.
"The Face of Late Abortion"
Martha Shane and Lana Wilson, both 29, are the filmmakers. "After Dr. Tiller's assassination in 2009, I remember watching the news coverage," said Wilson. "He'd been going to this church for over 20 years, and here the No. 1 villain of the pro-life movement is a deeply religious Christian. He'd been shot before. Who would want to do a job where most of the country maligns them? Are there other people who do this work? Will anyone want to keep doing this work? What's it like to work every day under these conditions?"
Robinson and Sella were initially reluctant to participate. "Dr. Tiller did not give interviews," said Robinson. "Period. End of story. His reason for not doing that was, he'd say, 'It's not about me, it's about the patient.'"
So Robinson said no at first to Shane and Wilson. But the two women came to visit, and Robinson said they were "very charming, very persistent." Others at the clinic suggested they open it to the filmmakers. "'Patients are stigmatized, doctors are stigmatized,'" they told her. Robinson decided, "I want to be a face that is not that gruesome guy from Philadelphia, Gosnell, those ghastly botched abortions. He's the face of late abortion. I look like someone's grandmother. It's a little harder to make me into a bloody butcher."