Readers, you may have recently noticed on my sidebar a plea to help to Brooklyn-based filmmakers, Lana Wilson and Martha Shane, raise funds for their documentary "Trust Women," which takes a look at Dr. LeRoy Carhart and Dr. Warren Hern, two of the last physicians in the country who continue to perform late-term abortions. Whether they realize it or not, the directors are documenting the tale of two American doctors who stand up to terrorism everyday. I had the chance to interview them and I hope, if you feel as passionate about this movie getting made as I do, you'll pledge a few bucks right here.
I never ask you guys for money, I rarely advocate anything, so you know this cause has really captured my heart. I hope it captures yours too.
Hey, by the way, they only got until tomorrow, May 23rd, so jump on this now, Now, NOW! Please, please, use your money to put something good into the world, even if it's only $5 or $10, you'll be able to brag to all your friends about helping young, intelligent artists improve the world.
OK, without further begging, Lana Wilson and Martha Shane:
GRN: Tell us a little about the 'story arc' of your film, it's title, your goals and the doctors portrayed.
The working title for our film is TRUST WOMEN: THE STORY OF TWO AMERICAN ABORTION DOCTORS.
After the murder of Dr. George Tiller last June, there are only a few American doctors left who provide late abortions for women who need them. Two of these physicians—Dr. LeRoy Carhart and Dr. Warren Hern—have been threatened and harassed by the anti-choice movement for years, yet have bravely continued their work protecting a woman’s right to cho
ose. Our film will paint a vivid portrait of the lives of both of these men.
The sacrifices that these doctors, their families, and their staffs make on a day-to-day basis--whether it means installing metal detectors in their clinics, or avoiding restaurants and other public places--often go unnoticed. Similarly, the complicated medical and personal circumstances that lead many women to seek an abortion are frequently misunderstood or ignored. We hope that our film will not only make a powerful political statement about the importance of protecting abortion rights, but also function as a work of art, telling the deeply personal stories of its two main characters through their own eyes, in a lyrical and expressive style.
As for the doctors themselves, the first is Dr. LeRoy Carhart, who served in the United State Air Force for over twenty years, and has been providing abortion care since 1974. He founded the Abortion & Contraception Clinic of Nebraska (ACCON) in Bellevue, Nebraska, with his childhood sweetheart and wife of 48 years, Mary Lou Carhart, in 1992. ACCON’s mission is to provide pregnancy terminations, contraception, and routine medical care to the women of the Midwest in a compassionate, comfortable and personal environment. Dr. Carhart was a close friend of Dr. George Tiller, and after Dr. Tiller’s assassination in May 2009, decided to provide late-term abortions at his own clinic. Over the years Dr. Carhart has been subject to endless persecution from anti-choice protestors, including a suspected arson in 1991 that burned down his family’s farm, killing seventeen horses and two pets. Last month, as you may already know, restrictive new anti-choice laws were signed into law in Nebraska, set to go into effect in October.
The second doctor who will be featured in the film is Dr. Warren Hern, the Director of the Boulder Abortion Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, founded his own private practice in 1975, and since then has devoted his life to researching and developing the best and safest ways of terminating pregnancy. A trained anthropologist, he has also studied fertility and the use of contraceptives in Peru’s Shipibo Indian communities for the past forty years, and has written extensively about that research, as well as about abortion practice and women’s rights. Despite living and working in one of the most progressive communities in the country, Dr. Hern has suffered anti-choice harassment and threats for decades, including a shooting attack on his clinic. But nothing will stop Dr. Hern—at the age of 72, he still skis double-black-diamond runs, writes poetry, and takes National Geographic-published nature photographs in his spare time.
GRN: I've always felt like the mistake in the abortion debate is that the anti-abortion rights people have made it an issue of morality, of murder, of standing up for someone who can't stand up for themselves. And it has crossed my mind that those who think abortion involves killing a living thing are under the impression that some god drops a soul from heaven like an air traffic controller at the moment of conception. Have you found that most anti-abortion arguments are narrowed down to something like this? Do you feel there is any reasonable opposition to the rights to an abortion?
Some anti-abortion arguments definitely do go along the lines that you mention, and use an argument of "morality" to make their case. But the case for morality can also be made on the pro-choice side of the issue. As Dr. Carhart put it in an interview we did with him, "The only truly moral way to be is pro-choice. Women will never be forced to make a decision they don't want to if they are allowed to have a choice." As his wife, Mary Lou Carhart, pointed out in the same interview, when can it be moral to, for instance, force a 13-year-old girl to have a baby? Is that really the most morally righteous decision to make?
As you point out, anti-choicers certainly do harp on the idea that life, to them, begins before birth, in the womb. Many of them even suggest that life een begins when the sperm fertilizes the egg, even though this is not even something possible to medically detect. Dr. Hern wrote a very funny piece for THE COLORADO STATESMAN in 2007 called, "Would a fertilized egg need a passport?" Here's an excerpt from it that relates to what you're talking about (and you can read the full piece here: http://www.drhern.com/pdfs/fertilizedeggamendment.pdf):
"An egg is a person. No, an egg is a chicken. A fertilized human egg is a person. An acorn is a tree. A seed is an apple. A set
of plans is a house. A blastocyst is a “preborn baby.” An adult human being is a “pre-dead corpse.” Up is down. Black is white. War is peace. Facts are not important. Belief is what matters. And people who know the truth will tell you what to believe....The U.S. Constitution refers to “All persons born...,” not “all persons conceived...” or “all fertilized eggs…” No live birth, no person."
For us, the bottom line is that everyone is entitled to have their own opinion on abortion--whether it's right or wrong, or whether they would ever consider getting an abortion themselves. And people are welcome to have their own opinions about when life begins (even if those opinions are not backed up by medical facts). But people should not have the right to make this decision for others. No person--and certainly no state legislature or federal government--has the right to make deeply personal medical and life decisions for women. Only the woman herself can judge her situation and what will be the best decision for her.
GRN: I find that the most religious and sexually restricted areas of the United States are frequently the areas in which teen pregnancy is the highest. These are frequently also the places in which an abortion (particularly for young people) are especially hard to obtain. What do you think this says about America's variety of approaches to sexual education?
America's approach to sex education is clearly very problematic. Numerous studies have proven that countries with the most comprehensive sex education programs, and not the "abstinence-only" policy that so many American health teachers are forced to adhere to, have lower abortion and teenage pregnancy rates. There is no question about this, so it's unfortunate that American education policy is not currently doing everything it can to prevent teenagers from being in the situation where they need to get abortions. One great irony of the anti-choice movement is that ultimately, their policies actually lead to higher abortion rates.
In terms of the lack of abortion services in certain parts of the country, that is certainly a problem too. Martha actually had a letter to the editor published in THE NEW YORK TIMES last week about the unfortunate lack of access to abortion services in red states: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/17/opinion/l17douthat.html
GRN: Who needs to see your film? Do you think you can change minds? Do you think the anti-abortion rights people will give you a chance?
We want as many people as possible to see our film. We certainly do think that art changes minds, and that's why we're making this movie.
One of the major problems with the pro-choice movement is public perception, particularly public perception of the doctors who actually provide abortions. We think that by putting audiences directly inside of the lives of these two very inspiring doctors--letting them hear both men speak, in their own words, about why they do the work that they do, as well as sharing the stories of women who come to the clinic and why--they'll be able to better understand why protecting the right to choose is so important. It's also very important to us to really put a human face on these two doctors--to show that they're people with wonderful families and hobbies and passions just like everyone else--because we think that will help audiences sympathize and identify with them.
We don't have high expectations for the anti-choice movement giving our film a chance, but who knows--it could happen! The film is really targeted more at people who are uncertain or conflicted about the issue--which is probably most of the country--as well as people who are mostly pro-choice, but may not support late abortion rights. This is surprisingly common, thanks to widespread misinformation about why women need late abortions. So another goal of the film is simply to educate the general public about why late abortions are sometimes needed, and the importance of protecting this right as well.
GRN: The anti-abortion rights people are often portrayed as rough customers. In the process of making this film did you find any of that to be true? Did you ever feel threatened?
We are still in the process of making this film, so it's really too early to say. What we've seen so far is a wide range of anti-choice protestors--from very quiet people who pray silently outside clinics, to loud protestors who aggressively harass the women trying to get inside. We really don't feel threatened ourselves--the safety of the doctors and the clinic staffs is what's really at risk here.
GRN: Can you offer any insight on the recent law passed in Oklahoma forcing women seeking an abortion (and doctors) to undergo a vaginal ultrasound against their will (among other provisions)?s
The new Oklahoma law is a terrible blow to the rights of women in that state. It has two provisions--one in which the doctor has to show an ultrasound of the fetus to the pregnant woman, and describe its physical characteristics to her, even if she is the victim of rape or incest, and another in which doctors cannot be sued by their patients if they decide not to tell a patient that their fetus has a severe birth defect. Obviously, if a woman does not know about a birth defect in her fetus, this can have disastrous consequences for both herself and her family. And as for the other provision, we think Rachel Maddow said it best: the new plan of the anti-choice movement seems to be that "If you can't stop women from having abortions, at least make the experience as vile, invasive, and humiliating as possible." It's a shame that this law passed, but hopefully it will incite the women in that state to action.
Thanks, Lana, Martha, Dr. Hern, Dr. Carhart and all my readers especially those who are now going to click here and use a few bucks to help change the world.