12th and Delaware: The fight for reproductive rights on the ground

Many thanks to Amber for her write-up of the film!

This past weekend was the Maryland Film Festival and we were lucky enough to get tickets to the exciting new documentary about crisis pregnancy centers, 12th & Delaware!

The directors, Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing, well-known for their documentary Jesus Camp, spent almost a year filming at a Florida crisis pregnancy center that sits directly across the street from an abortion clinic. The film was riveting–a look, as Grady said, “Beyond being into their heads, we’re inside their hearts.”

Exploring the mission and day-to-day activities of a Florida crisis pregnancy center, Grady and Ewing look at the CPC’s goals, counseling tactics, and deeply rooted beliefs. They also follow a number of women who find themselves facing an unwanted pregnancy, including those who choose abortion and those who choose to carry to term. One of the saddest stories told is that of a 15 year old girl who forgoes an abortion because of what the CPC tells her, but attempts to induce a spontaneous abortion by drinking vinegar and moving heavy objects, to no avail. At the end of the film, she is seven months pregnant and unhappy with the way her neighbors and friends are treating her, but believes she’s done the right thing. The CPC told her that an abortion could cause cancer or make her unable to ever have kids, and she didn’t think that it was a risk worth taking.

Despite the lies and inaccuracies that the CPC disseminates, the filmmakers remain steadily objective. Grady & Ewing use on-screen text sparingly to state facts that neither side can argue (the dates the abortion clinic and CPC opened, the numbers of abortion providers and CPCs in the US), and forgo the talking heads and narration that are often used. Instead, they let every person speak for him or herself, with their own words.

Watching one woman after the next encounter deception and hear medically inaccurate information about abortion presents a challenge. How were the film makers about to stand by and record, but not interfere.

As they shared, “We really had to be objective and watch extremely vulnerable women not get comforted, not get relief. That wasn’t our role, but it hurt. I would just be dying, these girls were in so much pain, I felt like a traitor because I couldn’t do anything about it,” said Grady. Even sitting in the audience, watching but not being able to stop what’s happening, posed a frustrating challenge of not being able to tell the patients the truth.

There were, of course, moments when the audience cheered and laughed–when a woman, after hours of pressure from Anne, the CPC counselor, leaves, ready to seek the abortion she always knew she wanted and annoyed that Anne insisted on paying for her lunch when she had her own money, “I guess she thought that if she bought me some McDonald’s, that would change my mind,” she says, her tone conveying just how crazy she thinks that is. She talks about the nerve of Anne trying to convince her to carry to term, asking where Anne will be after she’s given birth and for the next 18 years.

The are moments when the audience groaned, as a couple seeking an abortion gets an ultrasound (how the CPC convinced them it was necessary is not shown) and the tech types HI MOMMY and HI DADDY onto the image before printing it out for them.

There are moments when you can’t help but feel fear, like when a protester stalks the anonymous doctor who provides abortions and talks about finding out his name and address and reveling his identity.

Salon declared it the Best Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival, and we offer our congratulations to the directors for creating such a powerful work that contains so little of themselves. It was a film that both the abortion clinic owners and CPC staff saw before it was screened. And the directors shared that both parties approved of the film in advance screenings.

However, Father Tom, the president of the CPC, and Anne, the executive director, came all the way to Baltimore to hand out literature and loudly complain during the Q&A this past weekend. We can only attribute this to the fact that now that the film has been screened and is beginning to garner media attention and public awareness, Father Tom felt the need to proclaim that Grady and Ewing had attempted to “malign the reputation of Pregnancy Care Center and distort the truth.”

But never mind the ‘supposed grievance’ Father Tom is promoting. Instead, it is the patients- the women seeking services- who continue to haunt us long after the film finishes. These women are the real heart of this film.  Some of them are terrified, some resolute. One woman is told, by Anne, that having a baby might make her abusive partner change his ways. Another women is upset to learn the CPC lied to her about how far along she was, and one women with six children, allows herself to be led away from the abortion clinic by protesters promising her rent money, food, care for her children, anything so long as she doesn’t have an abortion, as Candace watches from the window but doesn’t intervene.

Grady’s and Ewing’s film sheds light on the real anti-choice movement. While we are always fighting for the safe and legal right to chose, and abortion funds are fighting to provide money so that those legal rights are accessible to women, no matter what their financial situation, we must not forget the on-the-ground battle that is being waged against women.

NARAL Pro-Choice America and NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia will be hosting house parties this summer to view 12th & Delaware, airing on HBO and tentatively scheduled for August 2nd. Check your local listings and stay tuned for more information about these gatherings!

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