12th and Delaware
We just finished watching the documentary 12th and Delaware. It’s about a corner in Fort Pierce Florida which has an abortion clinic on one corner and a “pregnancy care center” (i.e. an anti-abortion clinic) across the street. It’s an interesting film, no question, and it’s certainly worth watching, but there’s one major drawback to it from my perspective, and it didn’t really hit me what it was until Amy and I talked about it a little after it was over.
The filmmakers decided not to impose a narrative on the story outside of the editing process. There’s no voiceovers, no interviews–there’s just cameras recording what’s going on. I don’t mean to demean the power of good editing, but what happened in this film is that because there was no outside narrative, there was also no one calling bullshit on the lies the people in the anti-abortion clinic were telling, and there was no one to point out how rarely these groups keep their promises to the women they convince to take these pregnancies to term.
The reason I felt that was a problem is because for every time Amy and I shook our heads in disgust or gesticulated at the dishonest actions of the anti-choice people, someone who feels the opposite about abortion might easily feel joy or justification, or worse, use the film as a way to get tips to deceive women who are looking to exercise their Constitutionally-protected right to choose their medical care.
Which isn’t to say that the film was an example of on-the-one-handism. For example, the scene with the bald, goateed protester who stalks the owner of the abortion clinic as he ferries the doctors to and from the clinic is beyond creepy. Watching it you wouldn’t be surprised to find an end note on the film saying that the doctor had been shot outside his home–there is no such note, just to be clear; that’s just the vibe the guy gives off.
But none of the misinformation the anti-choice people provide to women in their clinics is ever challenged by the filmmakers, and so the audience is left to either be disgusted by the falsehoods (like we were) or nod along approvingly (like anti-choicers would). That’s not a big deal if the subject is less important to peoples’ lives, but lots of women are fooled by these lies and deceptive practices, and their lives will forever be changed as a result and few if any of them will get long-term aid from the people who run these “pregnancy care centers.”
One moment that could have been played up a little more in my opinion is when it becomes clear that the anti-choicers are lying to women about how far along they are in their pregnancies. Here’s how it works: the “pregnancy care center” offers a free ultrasound to the women who come in (some of whom, it should be noted, have gone to the wrong building), and the center underestimates the age of the fetus by a couple of weeks. In the film, one woman has been told she’s seven weeks pregnant when she’s really ten. This matters, of course, because once she’s out of the third trimester, it’s a whole lot harder for her to terminate the pregnancy. And the anti-choicers can celebrate because they’ve “saved another baby.” But because there’s no outside voice to point that out, the viewer has to come to it on their own. The woman who runs the clinic tries to articulate it, but she’s not as clear as she could be.
Part of my disappointment, no doubt, comes from the fact that I really despise the anti-choice movement and their hypocrisy and their hatred of women and feminism in general, and it’s not really the filmmakers’ fault that they didn’t make the movie I wanted them to make. They made the movie they wanted to make, and it’s worth seeing. It’s just that there were so many opportunities to call bullshit on the anti-choice movement, moments that anti-choicers will hold up as proof of how wonderful they are, that I got a little frustrated at times.
I’m going to end this with a short interview from YouTube with the two directors, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. They’re the people who made the truly excellent documentary “Jesus Camp,” and they talk a little about how this film came into being.