Where Is God In After Tiller?

Casey N. Cep ponders religion’s complex role in the documentary:

“The debate is always framed in such stark, absolute terms, but when you hear from these women and what their lives are like, it’s harder to apply blanket, abstract rules,” [filmmaker Lana] Wilson said. The same is true for the four physicians, who themselves articulate doubts and uncertainties over the procedures they perform. When Dr. Sella reflects on her work, she confesses, “The reason that I’ve struggled is I think of them as babies. I don’t think of it as a fetus.” Later, Dr. Robinson decides to deny an abortion to a woman who is thirty-five weeks pregnant because she lacks a compelling reason, and then disagrees with her staff by approving an abortion for a Catholic teen-ager who considers herself pro-life.

That teen-ager is one of many patients who prays and worries over her relationship with God. Listening to her testimony, I thought back to my second year of seminary, when I lived down the street from a Planned Parenthood health center. Some mornings, on my way to lectures on the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament, I would stop to talk with the protestors who occupied the street corner. I remembered some of those conversations while watching “After Tiller.” When I asked Shane and Wilson why they did not interview those opposed to late-term abortions, they pointed to the presence of those views in the film. “Many of the patients, usually the ones struggling most with the decision, are wrestling with their religion,” Shane said. “Some of the patients are even anti-abortion,” Wilson explained. “These women struggle with these issues more than anyone.”

Check out the Dish’s “Ask Anything” series with the After Tiller filmmakers here.