The documentary, After Tiller, has recently received a lot of publicity. Since it covers subject matter that is often discussed within the Care Center, we wanted to provide some thoughts on the film for those of you who plan to take a look at it. The following are 5 main points and thoughts that I came away with after watching the film.
1. Who was George Tiller?
Dr. George Tiller was one of the only doctors in the country to provide late-term (third trimester) abortions; his practice resided in Wichita, Kansas. In 2009, he was shot and killed outside of his church one Sunday, leaving only 4 remaining doctors in the country who will perform late-term abortions. The documentary follows the doctors’ responses to Tiller’s death and their desire to carry on his “mission” regardless of mounting opposition. The documentary appeared in film festivals in 2013, but recently premiered on PBS on September 1, 2014.
2. The abortionists become the victims.
The synopsis of the film on PBS states that After Tiller is “a deeply humanizing and probing portrait of the only four doctors in the United States still openly performing third-trimester abortions in the wake of the 2009 assassination of Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, Kansas—and in the face of intense protest from abortion opponents.” The film very effectively portrays the doctors as the victims—determined martyrs marching on for their cause in the wake of intense persecution from those who are pro-life (one of the doctors refers to those who oppose abortion as “terrorists”). The film is very emotionally driven and pushes the viewer to feel sympathetic towards these doctors who are forced to work within the strict guidelines of new legislation, as well as navigate choppy ethical waters.
3. Every voice is heard, except for the unborn child’s.
We hear from the doctors, from the doctors’ families, from the staff at abortion clinics, and from the women and men facing the decision of a late-term abortion. Ironically (but not surprisingly), the only voice that is not heard is the voice of the one most affected by this decision, the unborn child.
Obviously, it’s impossible to hear from the unborn because they cannot speak for themselves. Granted, the documentary does include footage of politicians advocating for legislation to protect life, as well as men and women standing outside of abortion clinics in order to protest what is happening within. These voices are portrayed in a negative way, but at least they are present. Unfortunately, while the subject matter of the film focuses on a practice that ends a human life, it does not spend much time talking about the unborn lives themselves.
4. It asks many questions, but provides no direct answers.
Many interviews are done with the women and men choosing to abort. While none of the interviews show the faces of the clients (in order to protect privacy), most are visibly distressed and upset throughout the interviews; they wring their hands, fidget, and openly cry as they talk about what they are about to do. Most of the interviews are with women whose babies have been diagnosed with some kind of fetal anomaly. Their reasoning is that they would rather end their baby’s life now instead of allowing their child to live a life of suffering or difficulty. One woman voices her concern about whether or not God will forgive her. Another shares that she’s in a no-win situation: if her baby lives, he will suffer, and if her baby dies, he, well… dies.
The doctors also voice that they sometimes question their profession. One doctor even goes so far as to admit that, for third-trimester abortions, she can no longer call the baby a “fetus,” because she is actually delivering a whole baby, and this sometimes causes her pause.
The underlying message in the midst of all these ethical dilemmas seems to be that, ultimately, you have to understand where the woman is coming from in order to understand and support her decision. And—believe me—I agree that it is incredibly important to acknowledge the woman’s situation and feelings and very real crisis. But even as these doctors share this viewpoint, there seems to be some underlying uncertainty—an uneasy gray area. Who decides if a woman’s reasoning is “good enough?” Who decides what defines a “good quality of life” for a child? At what point is this procedure going too far? The film raises these and many more questions, but provides little answers or moral direction.
5. Sincerity does not equate moral rightness.
I don’t know these four doctors, so I can’t speak to the condition of their hearts. The film portrays them as sincere people who honestly believe that they are fulfilling a need, supporting a cause, and fighting for the rights of women. Is this portrayal accurate? Let’s assume that it is. The next logical question would be, “If they are sincere in their cause, does that justify their actions?”
Even plain common sense tells us that this is not true. I can sincerely believe with all my heart that I am such a good basketball player that I could take Lebron James in a game of one-on-one. But the truth, no matter how much I might deny it, is that if I stepped onto a court with Lebron I would be humiliated. My sincere belief is, at its root, incorrect. It’s not based in truth, and so it leads me to say and do things that are incorrect or just plain ridiculous.
Now that’s a silly example, and obviously ranking my personal basketball skills is in no way as serious as deciding whether or not an unborn child should continue to live. But the principal is much the same. Sincerely believing in something does not make it so. There are some things that are simply “right” and others that are simply “wrong” – and these choices are almost never easy. There have been many people throughout history who have believed wholeheartedly in their causes, and who have also done unspeakable evils.
As a Christ-follower, I believe that the best—in fact the only—standard for morality is found in the Bible. Here we see God’s immense value of life (Psalm 139:13-15; Gen. 1:27; Gen. 9:5-6; Psalm 8:4-5; Jeremiah 1:4-5) and his command to protect the weak and speak for those who have no voices (Isaiah 1:17; Psalm 82:3-4; Prov. 31:8-9; James 1:27). We also see where the Bible says that we will have to answer for everything we say, do, or think, whether good or bad (Mat. 12:36; Rev. 20:11-15; 1 Cor. 4:5).
In other words, you, myself, each of those four abortion doctors, and every person who has ever walked this earth will one day have to give an account for what we’ve done with this life. And all the good intentions in the world will, quite frankly, not mean much of anything when standing before a perfect God. The only justification will be for those who are in an intimate relationship with Jesus, and have submitted to him in obedience.
After watching After Tiller
After watching this documentary, my heart was heavy, but also hopeful. Heavy, because films such as these show how easily the lines between right and wrong can be blurred. It also shows how easily emotions can be manipulated. Insert just the right piano crescendo and suddenly you find yourself feeling sympathetic about things for which you would never normally feel sympathetic.
But I also felt hopeful, and this is why: My hope is that this film will awaken many from their sleep. That the reality of more than 50 million abortions since 1973 will pierce hearts and move us to action. That we will see the woman who is experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and say to her, “I see you. I care for you. I love you. And I want to help you.” That we would genuinely seek to provide accurate and complete information to men and women so that they truly make an informed and life-affirming decision.
My hope and prayer is that, if you do watch the film—or if you only read this blog—that you would be personally bothered by the attempts of this film to humanize an act that is, by definition, dehumanizing. And my hope is that you would be so bothered—or call it convicted—that you would be moved to action.
Because if we do nothing, then who will?
George Tiller. (2014, July 20). Wikipedia.com. Retrieved September 3, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Tiller
George R. Tiller. (2010, January 9). Topics.NYTimes.com. Retrieved September 3, 2014 from http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/t/george_r_tiller/index.html?inline=nyt-per
After Tiller Synopsis. PBS.org. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/pov/aftertiller/
Mary Holloman is the Communications Coordinator at Greensboro Pregnancy Care Center. She loves spending time with her husband, Matt, and serving her local church, Lawndale Baptist.