12th and Delaware *** ½
Directed By: Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady.
12th and Delaware is a fascinating documentary about one street corner in Fort Pierce Florida. On one side of the street, is an abortion clinic. On the other side of the street is the Pregnancy Care Center, a pro-life center where they try and convince women who want to have abortions to keep their babies. On the street outside, at seemingly all hours of the day, there are protesters against the abortion clinic, who hold up those graphic, bloody signs showing aborted fetuses, and the protesters yell at the people who work at the clinic, and try to convince people who are heading in not to. This is the ground war on abortion rights in America.
In the interest of full disclosure, I feel the need to mention that I am pro-choice. So if you pro-life, and want to discount my view on this documentary because of it, feel free. I respect reasonable people on both sides of the debate – and deplore people on both sides who sensationalize the issue. The documentary by Tony Kaye, Lake of Fire, is in my mind the definitive look at abortion in America – and gives everyone, the rational and insane on both sides – time to air their views, and lets the viewer reach their own conclusion – something the Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady claim about this film as well. The music gives them away though – the sinister sounding music that plays at times when the film concentrates on the pro-life side, and the rather more sympathetic music on the pro-choice side. Having said that though, I do believe that 12th and Delaware does a fine job at showing you both sides, even if the filmmakers clearly do show more sympathy to the pro-choice side. Afterall, like their previous movie Jesus Camp, the people in this movie get a chance to say whatever they want to, and its entirely possible if you feel differently about the abortion issue than I do, that you will walk away with a differing opinion on what is shown.
I found the film fascinating when it shows what the Pregnancy Care Center does to women who come to them looking for abortion. Setting up across the street for the abortion clinic is vital to them, because they are counting on people to get confused and come to them by mistake – thinking they are going somewhere that performs abortions. They don’t do that, but for a while anyway, they let newcomers think they do (they never come out and say they do perform them, but by the time many patients realize this, they have been there for a while, and been subjected to all sorts of consuelling, videos and information that talk about the risks of abortion). I have a problem with this, not because of what they do so much, as how they do it. They do deliberately mislead people, they manipulate them into doing what they want. The counseller tells one woman who says she doesn’t want to have the baby because her boyfriend is verbally and physically abusive that she should have the baby because maybe “the baby will change him”. Yeah, right. They tell women that abortion could led to breast cancer, and give horror stories and questionable statistics about abortion to try and change their mind. They give each woman an ultrasound to tell if they are pregnant, and how far along they are, and when they send the pictures home with them, they write “Hi mommy” and “Hi daddy” on the envelope. Their estimates on how far along they are always come in strangely low – perhaps because most abortion clinics will only terminate up to 12 or 14 weeks, and after that the procedure becomes more risky and invasive, and they’ll have to go somewhere else.
Many women see through the ruse fairly quickly, and want to get out of there. Some don’t, and are convinced. I couldn’t help but feel for one 15 year old who was convinced by the Pregnancy Care Center to keep the baby, and says that she is confident that she’ll receive a lot of support for them, and the baby’s father, once the child is born.
The protesters outside are also a rather interesting bunch. I have never quite understood why people feel the need to stand outside of abortion clinics and harass the workers and the women going inside – why they seem intent on making a difficult decision even harder. And why do they need the graphic signs? The hide behind free speech, but I think that unless Larry Flynt has the right to walk around with signs depicting graphic pornography, than the protesters should have the right to walk around with signs with pictures of giant aborted fetuses. Why should anyone have to look at that who are just driving by?
For their part, the abortion clinic seems more reasonable about things. They want to ensure that the women are making this choice themselves, and that they are taking it seriously – although they don’t really try and talk anyone with doubts out of the procedure either, they do seem more sympathetic to the women who are in an impossible, no-win situation. One thing I did find odd is that there is not one mention – on either side of the street – of adoption. Strange.
No, I do not think that the film is unbiased, and I do think the filmmakers should cop to that. Like Jesus Camp, they are obviously on one side of the issue, and are intent on showing us their side. But also like Jesus Camp, they do allow the people a chance to voice their views. They aren’t coaching, but are just capturing the type of counseling that the Pregnancy Care Center does, and showing the audience what it is they do, and what they do on the other side on the street as well. And if I feel that the filmmakers should cop to their intentions, that also goes for the Pregnancy Care Center themselves. They are deliberately misleading people more so then the filmmakers are. 12th and Delaware is a shocking, yet sad film. It is shocking because of what it shows us, and how some people on both sides of the debate will act in order to win. It’s sad because lost in all the shuffle is any real talk about the children who are born. Does the Pregnancy Care Center care what happens to the children who are born because they talked their mothers out of having an abortion? Or is simply getting the baby out of the mother alive enough?
Note: After watching the documentary, I did some more research on the issue of Pregnancy Care Centers. It seems they are extremely controversial, but that not all of them are like the one portrayed in 12th and Delaware. Time Magazine did a fascinating article entitled The Grass-Roots Abortion War, about centers like this one. 12th and Delaware is about this clinic, and ones like it, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some good ones out there. Like with any issue, it is important to get multiple perspectives on something – 12th and Delaware is a valuable movie, that allows its participants to air their views – but like any movie its scope can only be so large.