‘12th and Delaware’ Captures Reality of Abortion Providers
The United States is full of famous intersections: Hollywood and Vine, Haight and Ashbury, and Broadway and Seventh Avenue, which is home to Times Square. All are cultural icons in their own right. They are celebrated places and tourist attractions, and they stand in stark contrast to one intersection in St. Pierce, Fla. that captures the less glamorous subject of abortion.
At the corner of 12th and Delaware in St. Pierce sit both an abortion provider and an anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center (CPC), the latter seeking to persuade women from having abortions. Seeing an opportunity to capture the larger controversy in this microcosm of the debate, Oscar nominees Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (Jesus Camp) turned their lens on this Florida city to create 12th and Delaware, a documentary that debuted Monday night on HBO.
The proximity of A Woman's World, the abortion clinic, and the CPC, Pregnancy Care Center, is not a coincidence. Arnold, the clinic owner, opened the building in 1991. After eight years of protesting and demonstrations outside the clinic, anti-abortion activists seized the opportunity that created the strange intersection at 12th and Delaware. When a chiropractor across the street from A Woman's World closed, anti-abortion activists moved in within 24 hours to open the CPC, planning to compete with the abortion clinic across the street.
Anne, a devout Catholic woman, runs the Pregnancy Care Center. She is open about her office's efforts to lure women into her office who think they are going into the abortion provider across the street.
"We still get women coming in here thinking they are going there," she says in the film with pride. "If they move, yeah, we would have to think about that," she continues, adding that there is value in being close to the abortion clinic because she gets those who wander in the wrong door.
The first half of the documentary focuses almost exclusively on Anne and her affiliates, all of whom dedicate most of their lives to stopping the abortions that happen across the street. She is close to the protestors who stand outside and make every effort to divert women from the abortion clinic into her office. But perhaps the most troubling relationship Anne keeps is with her priest, Father Tom Euteneuer.
The filmmakers capture one of Father Tom's sermons about the "abortion industry," which he refers to as a kind of organized religion. He calls Planned Parenthood "the hierarchy" and the policemen that protect clinics its "guardian angels."
But this priest does more than motivate supporters of the CPC. Anne says she turns to him to approve the readings materials for her waiting room.
"Inevitably, what do they do when they are in the room? They read," she tells a group of anti-choice activists. "And since we are the ones putting out what is in the room, we know it is good information. There is no deceit in this. Trust me. Whenever I have any doubt about any of this, I ask Father Tom."
It isn't hard to see why CPCs have faced allegations [PDF] of providing misinformation about abortion and pregnancy. Anne seeks counsel about her medical brochures from a priest, not a doctor. She says she wants ethical advice, but what she needs to answer the questions she is asking is medical advice.
The misinformation in the materials seems to fit in well with the mentality of the CPC and its employees: stop abortion at all costs. Doing so means profiling pregnant women when they call for information.
"We have two women who call," says Anne, referring to the types of women they see. "She is fearless, or fearful."
Anne calls the fearless woman an "abortion shopper." Anne's goal is to keep this caller on the line. On the phone, she doesn't try to talk the woman out of it; she just wants to get the woman in the door of the CPC. She knows her most powerful tool of persuasion is in the building: the ultrasound.
"I've got to scan her today. I might lose her," Anne says to a co-worker, referring to Victoria, a 24-year-old mother of two who found herself pregnant by an abusive boyfriend. "If I ask her to come back, she might not."
The ultrasound procedure is free to all pregnant women, but it isn't out of generosity. Ultrasounds are one of the new tactics by anti-choicers in the abortion debate. More and more states seek to include the procedure as a requirement for all women seeking an abortion in an effort to convince women to carry the pregnancy to term. But recent research shows ultrasounds do little to change abortion rates.
The filmmakers leave the CPC for the second half of the film, which focuses on Arnold and Candace, the couple that owns and operates the abortion clinic. They are much more private, reserved people than Anne. They aren't activists by any means, and they don't hope to attract any unnecessary attention to their clinic. After all, attention for abortion clinics is usually negative, and often focused on the doctors.
The directors do well to capture the ongoing struggle of abortion providers to find doctors to perform procedures. Arnold devotes much of his time to protecting the doctors. He drives miles to secret locations away from the doctors' homes, personally takes them to and from the clinic, and transports them with sheets over their heads so protestors cannot identify them.
Still, that isn't enough, and the film captures the extreme measures that anti-abortion activists take to "out" abortion doctors. One of the activists follows Arnold to his pickup location and writes down the license plates of the abortion doctors. He hopes to use that information to find their names and addresses for future protests.
"Thank God none of our doctors got killed," says Candace as she pages through a file on violence toward abortion doctors. "You try to protect them, but there is only so much you can do."
The filmmakers took great care to cover many of the issues related to abortion care, and it is difficult to say that did anything but provide a balanced look at the subject. They did pass on some important questions along the way, however, and that will leave some viewers-particularly advocates of adoption-unsatisfied. There was also almost no discussion of paying for abortions, and the sexual education these women received was never addressed. But the film isn't about why women get pregnant. In fact, it isn't about the pregnant women at all. It's a film about the ongoing war between an abortion provider and a CPC across the street.
The evidence in the film makes one believe that the fight isn't a fair one. The anti-abortion activists are networked and organized. They belong to a national structure with support from their churches and other bodies. The clinic, however, stands alone. There is no larger body, no protesters standing outside of the CPC to send women across the street. Instead, Candace and Arnold are on their own, holed up behind video cameras and locked doors.
Andrew Bluebond is a staff writer for Campus Progress. He attends Claremont McKenna College.
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