Neely Swanson

“Abortion: Stories Women Tell” – Thoughtfully and painfully [MOVIE REVIEW]

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Amie. Photo courtesy of HBO

Amie. Photo courtesy of HBO

by Neely Swanson

Produced by HBO, one of the high water marks of documentary filmmaking, “Abortion: Stories Women Tell” is thoughtfully and incisively directed by Tracy Droz Tragos. “Abortion: Stories Women Tell” highlights the impact the lack of medical availability has on the women of Missouri, her home state and one of four states in the nation with only one abortion clinic serving the entire state. As emphasized in this film, the goal of the conservative majority in the Missouri general assembly, who have recently enacted a 72-hour waiting period further complicating access to abortion, is to rid the state of its last remaining clinic. As it now stands, it is becoming almost impossible for a woman to terminate her pregnancy for any reason in this state.

What Tragos does best, however, is tell the real life stories of the women who travel hundreds of miles to Granite City, Illinois, just over the border from St. Louis, in order to obtain the abortions they need for any one of a number of different reasons, some medical, some personal, and most heart breaking. For these women, obtaining an abortion is an expensive process necessitating taking time off from work, finding care for their children in many cases, and raising not just the funds for the procedure itself but also for what may be an overnight stay due to the distances they travelled.

There’s Amie, a single mom with two children working 70 to 90 hours a week at two jobs in order to support her family. Pregnant, she would no longer be able to work both jobs and without that income the family would be destitute. She must take time from work and travel more than 400 miles to try to obtain a pill that she hopes will terminate her pregnancy; her follow-up exam will entail the same 400 miles and lost wages. But before she can enter the clinic in Granite City she will have to pass the gauntlet of pro-life proselytizers. Then there is Monique whose husband beat her incessantly. There was no way she could raise a child in an environment where she couldn’t protect herself.

But there’s also the story of the young Christian couple, who, after viewing an ultra-sound of their fetus and being told that its brain had ceased to develop and that it would die shortly after birth if it made it that far, made the difficult decision to abort; a decision that was supported by their pastor who gave them emotional comfort at a time they needed it the most. Would they have continued this path without his support? Yes, but his help made a difficult decision one they could live with.

Interviews with the staffs of the clinics reveal women who understand or empathize with the dilemmas of their patients either because they, too, were placed in similar situations or because they realize that psychologically these vulnerable women need love and support not hellfire and damnation.

But Tragos also introduces us to an older woman named Kathy. Pro-life, she has chosen a path to organizing her fellow church-goers in leading the charge against abortion and Planned Parenthood. She truly believes that her God has chosen her for this leadership role and she will not rest until all clinics in the country are shut down. Her Catholicism has taught her that life is sacred from conception and she does not accept anything less. Her calling is higher and we glimpse her leadership at home, at church and in the field marching against clinics that provide services to women. One may disagree with Kathy’s motives but, as Tragos expertly illustrates, Kathy is sincere in her religious beliefs and will work tirelessly to promote them.

Told non-judgmentally, all the stories are, in their own way inspirational in their bravery or heart breaking in their reality; sometimes they are both. Dedicated individuals in the pro-life movement like Kathy follow the tenets of their religion. For them, in cases they deem to be moral issues, there can be no separation of church and state. Certainly there are those religious zealots who picket outside Planned Parenthood clinics shouting abuse at the women seeking service, not just abortions but also birth control, prenatal help and inexpensive medical care. And once again, by forcing the closure of these clinics, economic disparity is reinforced. Regardless of the inconvenience, rich and middle class women can seek service wherever it is offered. The poor, however, are, as is too often the case, shut out from affordable options, stuck in the vicious cycle of poverty and too many unwanted children. I would like to think that Kathy has an alternative for these women. Perhaps not.

See it in a theater or on HBO, but see it for its even-handed approach to an issue where neither side will ever concede.

Opening Friday August 12 at the ArcLight Hollywood.

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