12th & Delaware (Directors: Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady): In Fort Pierce, Florida, a battle for abortion rights is taking place at the intersection of 12th Street and Delaware Avenue. On one side of the street is the pro-life Pregnancy Care Center and across the street is an abortion clinic called A Woman’s World.
Every day at the crack of dawn, a pro-life supporter keeps a watchful eye on the abortion clinic. Later in the day, more recruits show up and patrol the sidewalk outside of the clinic. They display signs and graphic images of unborn babies to the passing traffic. When women visit the clinic, the pro-life supporters call out to them and urge them not to go in.
All across America there are similar abortion battles taking place. Pro-life centres often appear next door or across the street from abortion clinics. The hope is that women will enter a pro-life clinic by mistake where they will be persuaded to continue with their pregnancy. In some cases they are offered financial support but sadly, these promises are almost never kept.
Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady do a masterful job of providing an engaging and fairly objective view of the two sides in 12th & Delaware. Both groups are given equal screen time but it is the pro-life group that has all of the “interesting” characters. The Hot Docs audience often groaned or gasped in disbelief at some of the things the film’s pro-life supporters were telling women in their clinic – that abortions can cause breast cancer or that condoms work only 80 per cent of the time.
I think it is fair to say that the pro-life supporters in the film aren’t representative of all people that share the pro-life stance. The film’s pro-life supporters tend to say or do almost anything to prevent an abortion. This sets up several scenes that are difficult to watch because they are so embarrassing! Oddly enough, this is one of the aspects of the film that I also found appealing. It reminded me a lot of Ewing and Grady’s previous film, Jesus Camp.
For me, the best moment in the film occurs when a woman pulls into the abortion clinic parking lot and confronts a pro-life supporter. She wants to know why the group must display graphic images of an unborn fetus to passing traffic, including her child’s school bus. This woman is obviously a Christian and tells the pro-life supporters that they are misguided and that there are better ways to get their message across.
Ewing and Grady had unprecedented cooperation and access to both groups, taking the viewer into each of their buildings for a detailed look at how they operate. The pregnancy centre uses several tactics in persuading women to continue with their pregnancies – graphic videos, literature, ultrasounds and counseling. Across the street the abortion clinic operates in an environment of fear and heightened security. Cameras monitor the premises. Doctors are whisked into the clinic with sheets over their heads to protect their identities (during the filming of 12th & Delaware, abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was murdered in his church).
I was surprised to learn that there are over 4,000 pro-life pregnancy centres in the US and just over 850 abortion clinics. This well-crafted film doesn’t try to resolve any of the issues in the abortion battle but it provides a revealing look at both sides that is simply fascinating.
Second Look: Drew Kerr
12th & Delaware is the latest feature documentary from Oscar-nominated co-directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, the filmmakers behind the excellent Jesus Camp, which took a disturbing look at the religious indoctrination practices at a Pentecostal summer camp for children. Their latest finds them focusing on the abortion/pro-life issue, as told through the events that occur at an abortion clinic called A Woman’s World Medical Center, and the church-affiliated Pregnancy Care Center, which just happens to be on the opposite side of the street, at the intersection of 12th Street and Delaware Avenue in Fort Pierce, Florida. The setting is practically ready-made for a re-examining of the ongoing, incendiary American debate, and Ewing and Grady take a decidedly neutral approach in showing both sides of this divisive issue. Slightly more screen time seems to have been given to the Pregnancy Care Center side, but not in a way that slants things in the pro-life direction.
The centre is run by a woman named Anne, who appears genuinely invested emotionally in her work and the cause she believes in. Losing patients that decide to opt for an abortion brings her close to tears and “wins” (patients choosing to not terminate their pregnancy) elicit equally emotional responses of joy. Some of the Pregnancy Care Center’s methods appear to border on the unethical, or just plainly are. Misinformation is given about the actual abortion process, patients are falsely told that abortions can cause breast cancer, and some patients are informed (as alleged by Candace, the operator of the abortion clinic) that they’re not as far along in their pregnancies as they actually are, increasing the chances that by the time they make a decision they’ll be too far along to legally obtain an abortion. Then there’s those manipulative “Hi Daddy” and “Hi Mommy” “messages” from the fetus that get added by technicians to the ultrasound printouts for the parent or parents.
Life over at A Woman’s World Medical Center appears significantly more stressful for Candace and her husband. Threats of violence and vandalism are an everyday worry, and while the clinic hasn’t monetarily brought the couple anything more than a modest lifestyle, Candace is also strongly dedicated to her work, believing women need a place like hers that gives them an option. Picketers are a constant presence outside the clinic, many of whom fit your “religious nut” category. They walk around with signs showing gruesome pictures of aborted fetuses, harangue young women (and teenagers) as they exit and leave the clinic, amusingly preach their beliefs while standing outside closed windows of the clinic and speaking loudly, and one particularly scary pro-lifer even stalks/stakes out one of the rendezvous drop-off points where the doctors who perform the abortions get picked up by Candace’s husband in a bright yellow Mustang (the doctors follow such a protocol and are brought to the clinic which sheets covering them to protect their identities). The Mustang is effectively used several times by Ewing and Grady, with its ominous starting roar and its slow backing out of the clinic’s garage acting as a potent little dramatic enhancement in the movie.
Whenever I see a film or television show that manages to get people to open up on such intensely personal issues I marvel at how brave/stupid/attention-starved they are. I would categorize the women who visited the clinic or centre that talked to the Ewing and Grady as more brave than the other two adjectives, but my mind still boggles that the directors got as much insight into these women’s minds as they did. Combine this with a well-rounded look at the two medical facilities and their principals, and the result is a compelling, thoughtful film about a very tough subject that refrains from taking sides or editorializing, just letting the facts and happenings speak for themselves.