Shilpa Esther Trivedi
Last night the WRC's Reproductive Justice Action Team screened 12th and Delaware. And though I've seen this movie several times, I still walked away from it once again oscillating between moments of despondence and anger. I wanted to share a few thoughts I had about this film, and why it deserves critical attention.
12th and Delaware is an HBO documentary by Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing, the makers of Academy Award-nominated Jesus Camp. The film purports to show an unbiased view of two sides of the abortion debate. It focuses on the intersection of 12th and Delaware in Fort Pierce Florida, where on one side sits a Pro-Choice Women's Health Care Clinic, and on the other a Pro-Life Crisis Pregnancy Center (CPC). The film took over two years to make, but much of the footage in the film was shot during the summer of 2009, when Dr. Tiller was murdered. I am personally pro-choice and was interning at a pro-choice organization that summer. The fear and sadness that permeated the movement at this time continue to persist today as things become increasingly worse for women’s reproductive health in this country. While I will give a brief rundown of the facts and legislation surrounding the film later in this post, I think it is more important to consider the human side shown in this work. The most striking aspect of this documentary is how both the pro-choice and the pro-life sides passionately believe in the work they do. Moreover, this film offers an honest look at women facing unintended pregnancies and how their lives are permanently affected by the ideological war waged around them.
For me, the most difficult scene to watch in 12th and Delaware occurs when a young mother of two who faces an unintended pregnancy confesses to the director of the Pregnancy Care Center, Anne, that her partner is abusive. Anne’s response to this information, “The baby might change him.”
Later, at the A Woman's World clinic across the street, the director, Candace, discovers that another young girl has been misinformed by Anne concerning how far along she is in her pregnancy, and has to break the news to the teen that it is actually closer to ten weeks. As the girl leaves, Candace tells the camera, "They lie to patients about how far along they are, because clinics go to ten to twelve weeks, and that's it." Later she rhetorically asks of the Pregnancy Care Center volunteers, "Why are you messing up these girl's lives? Why are you playing around with them like that?"
The answer is simple, yet heartbreaking: because Anne is pro-life, she believes that she has a duty to prevent a women from choosing to have an abortions at any cost and regardless of that woman's personal circumstances. Over the past two decades thousands of Crisis Pregnancy Centers like Anne’s have been set up across the country. Often mistakenly listed as abortion services and given names designed to sound like reproductive health care clinics, these centers appear to provide the full range of comprehensive services for women facing unplanned pregnancies. They do not. Instead, these clinics are often not even licensed medical facilities and have no trained healthcare professionals on site. Often they are religiously affiliated, but few disclose this information. They also are not always subject to the same confidentiality laws that govern professional medical facilities. They sometimes target their advertisements towards young women in low-income areas. Their primary mission is to dissuade women from having an abortion. Occasionally they accomplish this by providing some minute financial support or aid in connecting women with adoption services. But more often their tactics are far more deceitful than helpful, and support usually ends the second women give birth. The film shows some of these harmful tactics; for example the brochures in Anne's waiting area contain information about the so-called "harmful" effects of abortion, but in order to ensure medical accuracy Anne verifies these "facts" with a priest rather than a doctor. We have several of these crisis pregnancy centers here in Portland.
NARAL Pro-Choice America warns that:
“These centers may not give you complete and correct information about all your options — abortion, adoption, and parenting. They may try to frighten you with misleading films and pictures to keep you from choosing abortion; they may lie to you about the medical and emotional effects of abortion. They may tell you that you are not pregnant even if you are. This may fool you into continuing your pregnancy without knowing it. If your decision is delayed, it could make abortion more risky. It could also keep you from getting early prenatal care. They may discourage you from using certain methods of birth control that are very safe and effective. Crisis pregnancy centers often pretend to be real health care providers — but many are not. These fake clinics often trick women with false advertising. They may make women think they will be offered unbiased information and a full range of health services.”
In response to increasing concerns about harmful crisis pregnancy center practices on a national level, NARAL Pro-Choice New York conducted an in-depth undercover investigation into New York’s crisis pregnancy centers. In 2010 they released “ ‘She Said Abortion Could Cause Breast Cancer:’ A Report on the Lies, Manipulations and Privacy Violations of Crisis Pregnancy Centers.” Spurred by this report, Local Law 17 was passed by the New York City Council and signed into law by Mayor Bloomberg. This law ensures that every woman who visits a CPC in New York City knows whether she will receive comprehensive options counseling, including referrals for abortion and birth control, whether she will be seeing a licensed medical provider, and ensures that her private, personal information will remain confidential. However, a judge blocked the law from going into effect in 2011. Politically progressive reproductive health organizations in other states have also begun working on tactics to curb some of the more harmful practices these centers engage in, but like many issues concerning women's healthcare these days, it is an uphill battle.
So what can you do about this? You can come to the Reproductive Justice Action Team Luncheon on Monday, May 14th from 12-1 pm in the Women’s Resource Center, where we will be discussing how people can get involved in community activism around reproductive justice (i.e. lobbying, rallying, volunteering with our action team and talking about ballot measures that are coming up) as well as why action is so urgently needed right now. You can also become familiar with the local organizations that do provide comprehensive aid to anyone facing an unintended pregnancy. Backline, for example, is a talk line here in Portland which provides support for whatever options a woman may consider for her pregnancy. (http://www.yourbackline.org/) You can also recognize that the situation of every women facing an unintended pregnancy is different, you cannot know where someone else is coming from, regardless of your personal beliefs it is important to ensure that all women receive comprehensive and fact based medical care and strong support around whatever option they decide is best for them. Using manipulative tactics towards any women facing the decision of when to when not to become a parent is demeaning to women everywhere. We ought to be empowering women to decide what is best for them.
Here is the trailer for the documentary: