A week or two ago, I had the privilege of attending a screening of the documentary 12th & Delaware, a film about an abortion clinic and a crisis pregnancy center that are literally across the street from each other in suburban Florida. The documentary is scheduled to premiere on HBO on August 2, and I’m so glad I got to see it beforehand (not just because I don’t have HBO). The film is powerful, eye-opening, disturbing — but it also leaves a lot to be desired, particularly where pro-choice information and priorities are concerned.
As someone who’s never set foot in a crisis pregnancy center, it was difficult for me to keep my jaw off the ground. The staff at this particular CPC didn’t pretend to care about what a woman wants to do with a pregnancy. It shocked me — I thought there would be a front of faux compassion, but no. They pour on endless guilt, whispering to each other that a woman is “abortion minded,” that maybe they can scare her into thinking her fetus is a fully formed human by writing “hi daddy” on the ultrasound, and even telling one woman that having her abuser’s child may make him less abusive. They celebrate when they think they’ve made a woman feel scared or guilty. They keep one woman locked in their counseling room, even ordering her lunch, hoping they can change her mind. They spew out misinformation about supposed connections between abortion and breast cancer. This is only the beginning of their treachery, of anti-choice deceit.
The crisis pregnancy center in the film gets a lot of air time compared to the abortion clinic. I would guess that more than 2/3 of the movie is focused on the CPC, and while this may be great in terms of letting their bullshit speak for itself, not everyone knows that it’s bullshit. Whether the film makers wanted this to be a pro-choice film or one with no agenda at all, it’s irresponsible to let lies, specifically lies about medical information, go unchallenged in the film. It’s one thing to try and stay away from making an activist film, but it’s another to have an hour of anti-choice propaganda with no truth telling interspersed.
I was completely floored when CPC staff mentioned my tweet heard around the world about a year ago when I (foolishly, proudly) announced that my clinic was offering free abortions in honor of Dr. Tiller. Anti-choicers had a field day with this news, which resulted in harassing calls at our clinic, protestors on odd days at odd hours, news cameras, all kinds of gross scare tactics.
Seeing the head of a crisis pregnancy center talk about the clinic I used to work at was harrowing, mind-blowing, terrifying. Of course, on that day a year ago I learned too quickly the power of social media, but how will my clinic’s mention in this movie affect the safety of patients and staff now? Did the film directors think about that? Did they contact my former clinic? I notified the clinic director, but it shouldn’t take the luck of my being in the theater for these issues to come out.
There are a few other careless moments in the movie. In one scene, an anti-choice protestor follows the car of the clinic director as he picks up the clinic’s abortion provider at a location far from the clinic, a measure to protect the clinician’s safety. This anti-choice protestor talks along the drive about wanting to “do justice,” alarming terminology that usually implies violence. We don’t see any actual violence, but the silence in chilling – do the directors tell the clinic that the anti-choice stalker knows where there doctor is dropped off? Knows what the doctor’s license plate is? There’s no way to tell from the film.
I respect that the film makers were trying to present an unbiased or apolitical view of the “abortion debate,” but safety concerns are not about politics, they’re about people’s lives. When you film people in a church proclaiming that pro-choice people and abortion providers are under the influence of “the powers of darkness” and then don’t film anyone combating these dangerous statements, it’s irresponsible. I saw the film in Brooklyn, where it’s an almost guarantee that you’re preaching to the pro-choice choir. There’s no way to know that this will be the case when it goes to a wider audience.