'After Tiller': Ignoring Threats, Doctors Do Third-Trimester Abortions

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Running Out of Providers

At 66, Robinson thinks about retiring but says she can't possibly, because who would do her work? "I've been doing OB/GYN for 30 years. I did a residency in OB and a fellowship in perinatology, high-risk obstetrics." But abortion provider David Gunn was shot and killed in Pensacola, Fla., in 1993. "I thought, Oh, my God, all the doctors are going to head for the hills." Then anti-abortion activist John Salvi walked into two abortion clinics in Brookline, Mass., and killed two receptionists. After that, Robinson began to perform abortions full-time.

Those who perform third-trimester abortions are, says Dr. Jennifer Austin, an OB/GYN in Oakland, Calif., "a rapidly shrinking population. When you become a doctor, you're starting to settle down, get married, have children, you start to worry about the safety of your children and family. I'm less concerned about abortion's being outlawed than about running out of providers."

Security, for the filmmakers, was a concern; while they did take the camera into the doctors' home, they did not, say, follow a doctor to a place he or she went with regularity and at a certain time -- no Saturday morning trips to the grocery store, for instance.

"Totally Different Worlds"

And then there was the question of "figuring out how to treat the protesters," said Wilson. "We didn't want to do this black-and-white political [film]. They're always present in the doctors' lives, lurking in the air as a potential threat." As the doctors and patients walk past the protestors, the camera goes past them. The doctors don't stop to talk, so the camera doesn't stop. A city council meeting features community members who do not want the doctors in their midst, for business reasons and for personal reasons.

"Outside versus inside the clinic, it feels like totally different worlds," said Shane.

Inside of course are the doctors and patients, and the filmmakers were hoping to present not only the former's story but the latter's. "There's a lack of accurate information out there about why women seek third-trimester abortions," said Shane. "It's important to have their stories out there."

"The patients who did agree to participate can't really believe they're in this situation," said Wilson. "They so understood people who wouldn't understand why you'd need [this procedure]."

The filmmakers tried to blend into the lives of the clinic. "Patients agreeing to film with us would say, 'Is this for a school project?'" said Wilson. "We look very young and unintimidating. Often women who are there are alone, without a partner or family member, and they wanted friends around them to go through it with."

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