‘After Tiller’: The Lives of the Last Late-Term Abortion Doctors

After Tiller

On May 31, 2009, Dr. George Tiller was shot to death during a church service in Wichita, Kansas.  Dr. Tiller was one of only five doctors in the United States who performed abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.  Now, there are four, and the documentary After Tiller examines their lives and livelihoods in the wake of Dr. Tiller’s death.

These four doctors are regularly harassed by people who proclaim themselves “pro-life,” yet have no qualms about killing – or celebrating those who do the killing – of abortion providers.  The film asks them why they choose to put themselves in harm’s way, why they choose to make themselves social pariahs.  Over the course of the 85-minute run-time, we learn about how these doctors’ lives have been threatened (death threats are a regular part of their daily life), how their livelihoods are impacted (one doctor was forced to relocate after his state outlawed late-term abortions, and he had an extremely difficult time finding a landlord who would rent to him), and how their personal lives suffer as a result of the trials they endure.  That they choose to stand up for their belief that they are providing a needed service and continue their practice in the face of such overwhelming opposition is nothing short of miraculous.

The film uses interviews and footage from consultations with patients to provide a look into the lives of the four doctors.  It’s no secret that abortion is a politically charged topic, but many people, including the doctors who perform them, treat late-term abortions as much more serious than abortions conducted at the beginning of a pregnancy.  As is detailed in the film, the late-term abortion procedure is fundamentally different from the procedure done earlier in a pregnancy, and the line between “life” and “not life” becomes extremely hazy.  But the facts remain that pregnancy is still a function of a woman’s body, and there are numerous reasons why women choose to get abortions, even at such a late stage of the pregnancy.  In one of the most emotionally powerful interviews in the film, one of the doctors states that she believes that she is working with babies, not fetuses, but that the physical and mental health of the mother outweighs the viability of the baby.

Because that is why these doctors do what they do: the health of the mother.  As the anti-choice crowd so often forgets, the health of the mother, both physical and mental, often hangs in the balance when deciding whether or not to get an abortion.  After Tiller’s use of footage from patient consultations proves again and again that abortion is one of the hardest choices women will ever make.  The film shows women who are torn apart by the decision.  The stigma placed upon the procedure by our society certainly doesn’t help with the decision.  These consultation scenes hammer home the importance of the doctors’ work; although the doctors are the subject of the documentary, the most emotionally powerful scenes are the consultations, highlighting why the doctors have made their decisions to continue their work.

After Tiller certainly won’t change any minds about the morality of abortion.  But it is a powerful piece of filmmaking, reminding those of us who support a woman’s right to choose why that right is so important, and how fragile that right is.  Four doctors in the entire country have the necessary training to perform a procedure that is necessary, if not desired, by some women.  And there are many out there working to change that number to zero.

‘Why Don’t You Just Give the Vagina You Have a Better Life?’

This and other important questions are raised by this 8-minute film we just discovered, Goodnight, Vagina, starring Cheryl Hines and Gary Cole. Reasons you should watch include the following lines: “I have a Bentley, so you know I’ve done this dozens of times.” And: “Your vagina died on the table.” Yep, there’s also a vagina funeral with a tiny coffin. We have a clip here; you can watch the whole thing here.

Latest Anti-Choice Loophole Puts Virginia Women At Risk

On Friday, the Virginia State Board of Health reversed an earlier decision to exempt existing abortion clinics from a 2011 bill which enforces the same building requirements on these clinics as on hospitals. The 15-member board voted 13-2 in favor of reversing a “grandfather clause” approved in a 7-4 vote in June which would have exempted existing clinics from new and costly renovations in order to comply with the bill. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli had refused to certify the June approved exemption, and had warned board members regarding their legal liabilities if the exemption remained. As a result of the decision reversal, existing abortion clinics will be responsible for physical plant requirements such as hands-free faucets and corridor dimensions. Such regulations could put some clinics in danger of closing their doors, according to operators.

While the Attorney General’s engagement with the State Board of Health in the decision process clearly merits attention, the decision reversal should also serve as an opportunity to consider whether it is necessary for abortion clinics to meet new building requirements designed for hospitals. [Read more...]

Birth Control Status Update: Our Poor Vaginas (and Wombs) Under Attack

My, isn’t ladybusiness suddenly so very hip to discuss at cocktail parties and presidential interviews and press conferences and Congressional hearings! We had no idea such a wide cross-section of men was so interested in woman-centric discourse. In fact, the status of such debates — over birth control insurance coverage, abortions, and everything in between — changes so often lately we can barely keep track. But we are going to start trying, right here, right now. Here, an update on where things stand; we’ll do our best to continue either updating this post or posting anew as the multiple political attacks on women’s health continue:

The Latest on Insurance Coverage for Birth Control: The U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops is working to make sure they — and any other employers with objections to birth control — don’t have to provide insurance coverage for contraception for their employees. Never mind that this money isn’t coming directly from the collection plate at Sunday mass to begin with; rather, it is paid for by insurance companies that cover the employees. For more info, visit NOW’s website.

UPDATE: Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) has proposed an amendment that would allow insurance companies and employers to deny coverage for any service they deem against their own beliefs, including birth control, maternity care, HIV/AIDS treatment, mammograms, cancer screenings, and more. For information visit the Center for Reproductive Rights’ website.

UPDATE: The Blunt amendment was defeated, though Arizona is considering its own state law that would do the same thing.

UPDATE: The Obama administration has presented a plan to allow for insurance companies to cover birth control for employees of religious institutions without using premium money directly from those groups who morally object to it.

The Latest on Prenatal Testing: Republican flavor of the week Rick Santorum also would like to restrict amniocentesis coverage because, according to him, it “more often than not” leads to abortion. These prenatal tests determine whether pregnant women have infections such as toxoplasmosis, hepatitis B, syphilis, chlamydia, and HIV, among other problems whose effects can be curtailed with such advance warning. For more info, check out this petition at SignOn.org.

The Latest on the Campaign Trail: Santorum says he’s not obsessed with preventing women from using birth control; he’s just opposed to Obama’s insurance mandates overall. “The issue is not contraception,” Santorum said on MSNBC. “The issue is government-mandated health insurance. That to me is completely on message The federal government, first off, shouldn’t be mandating any kind of health insurance and specifically going after churches, saying they have to do things that are against their principles and faith.”

Meanwhile, on Meet the Press, Sen. John McCain urged fellow Republicans to “get off” the contraception issue, adding, “I think we ought to respect the right of women to make choices in their lives.”

The Latest on Sex Ed: Utah Governor Gary Herbert has vetoed a state bill that would have outlawed discussion of contraception in high school classes.

A Song for Pubic Hair Freedom …

God knows we’re all for the freedom to do — or, more importantly, not do — whatever you want to your vagina, grooming-wise. (Or, um, otherwise.) That’s why we were thrilled to come across this:

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Sexism's Latest Victim: Your Vagina

There’s a new sexist scapegoat: our vaginas. The way we’ve been treating our poor ladyparts — a sexist movement sadly led mostly by women themselves — is not just disrespectful, but downright unacceptable!

No longer is it cutesy to nickname our lady business ridiculous things such as “vajayjay,” adorn her with rhinestones and — for the love — make her go under the knife to reclaim her youth.

The two latest vagina-upgrade “trends” include vagina facials and — seriously?! — makeup to make your pink parts prettier, specifically, to “restore the pink back to a woman’s genitals.” (If this confuses you, which is understandable, what they’re getting at is pinker = younger.) The way things are going, women are spending more time and money to alter the appearance of their privates than working on finding her a play date. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather end my day with an orgasm than have to carefully swab anti-inflammatory ointment on a fresh set of rhinestones or newly “tightened” labia.

Taking care of your vagina is important, and I’ll even get behind waxing — despite its feminist complications — as a means to a  neat-and-tidy end. But treating your vagina like a pageant queen or refugee in the name of keeping up with the Kardashians — and every other sex-tape/porn star out there — is taking it too far.

Ladies, please: before you invest in anything to change the look, shape, or “attitude” of your vagina, please take a moment to appreciate how awesome she is — just the way she is. If you’re suffering from low-vag self-esteem, check out these awesome websites that remind you why vaginas — and women in general –  rule. Or simply ask a guy what he thinks of them. Guaranteed he’s not going to wax poetic about rhinestones or a specific shade of pink.

What do you think about vagina adornment trends?

To Wax or Not to Wax: Our Fool-Proof Plan

Waxing will never be a totally feminist act – but here’s how you can make it a little more consciously female-friendly. Questions to consider before you wax:

1. Why are you doing it? Is it because your partner asked you to, because all of your friends are doing it, or because Gwyneth Paltrow is doing it? Or just because you prefer it? (Hint: We’d only declare you cleared for the landing strip if it’s the latter, whether it’s because it improves your sex life or simplifies your everyday shaving routine.)

2. Is it in your budget to spend $60 to $100 per month on this extra service? Can you maintain it?

3. Can you have a no-nonsense conversation with your waxer about how much of your hair you’d like to keep? Because if you can’t bring yourself to talk about labia—even in coded terms like undercarriage (our personal favorite) and front-to-back—you aren’t ready to go Brazilian.

4. Do you have an impeccable, upscale salon or spa—as recommended by many, many friends and reputable publications—to which you can go for your wax? If not, forget it. Please. We beg you.

5. Does waxing make you want to vajazzle? If so, sorry, you’ve lost us.

6. Does waxing make you want to get labial plastic surgery or rehymenization? If so, sorry, we cannot support you on that, either. Lines must be drawn.

7. Does your own waxing regimen inspire you to take your 8-year-old in for a similar procedure? In the name of sisterhood, we must stop you there. Let her grow up and decide for herself.

Six steps to making your waxing a little more feminist:

1. Visit a website like MyVag.net or VaginaVerite.com to explore all sorts of sex-positive, empowering ways to feel good about your ladyparts, waxed or not.

2. Watch some porn online. Realize you don’t want to do most/all of what those women are doing.

3. Learn the lingo and research good salons if you do decide to go.

4. Talk to your lover about what he or she prefers and why. This doesn’t mean you have to do everything he asks for; it just means you’re getting his expectations out in the open so you don’t find out at the wrong time (like when you’re watching porn together and he says he wishes you looked more like the chick onscreen) or find out the hard way (like when you undergo the pain of your first Brazilian as a surprise for him only to find out he hates waxing as much as you do). Also, feel free to tell him what goes into making your ladyparts so smooth—go ahead, be dramatic about the $80 cost and every bit of the pain. He should know what you go through, and he should be just fine with seeing you between appointments. Then talk about what you prefer and why. This is your chance to tell him you’d love to go certain places on him if he could, perhaps, take a trimmer to them. Or to tell him you love his hairy, Tom Selleck chest and hope he’s never inspired to visit a salon after a late-night viewing of The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

5. While you’re at it, ask your lover what he or she likes about your vagina. Straight men and gay women tend to like them more than some of us do, and can help us love ourselves a little more.

6. Talk to your girlfriends about waxing. You’ll find out what other women are doing and not doing, and you’ll have much more fun than you would having your 732nd conversation about your annoying boss and your friend’s non-committal boyfriend.



Follow Jennifer on Twitter: @jenmarmstrong

Our Poor Vaginas

When a Cosmo headline promises to help readers get a “sexy vagina,” you know we’ve gone wrong somewhere. Here, all this time, we’d thought that if we had just one inch of sexy on ourselves, it resided in our sex organs. We figured maybe, just maybe, the place where their penises go might turn men on. We thought perhaps the millions of males who paused their VHS tapes of the 1992 movie Basic Instinct at a certain moment when Sharon Stone uncrosses her legs for all the world to see a flash of her goods—and the millions more who continue to search for this screen-shot online to this day—might have been predisposed to like pussy. (Then again, that is a hot white mini-dress she wears; maybe they just appreciate the simplicity of the design.) What we’re saying is we didn’t realize it could be such a chore to sex up the part of us that performs the sex.

Oops, take that back: We did realize it. We’ve realized it since the late ’90s, when suddenly it wasn’t just porn stars who found it an every-day necessity to hire a lady to pour hot wax onto their genitals, then rip it allll off, to, you know, keep things tidy down there. Organized. Sexy. In fact, a startling number of us pledged complicity to this trend—known by the seductive term Brazilian bikini wax—for something so painful, given that, unlike porn stars and swimsuit models, we couldn’t even claim it as a tax write-off. Among women in American urban centers, this has even become the norm, as routine as a manicure-pedicure or highlights, more routine than a dentist appointment. It is no mere biannual affair, after all. Keeping your honeypot sexy takes dedication, darling.

The question: Why do we do this? And does every rip of the wax take a little bit of our feminism with it?

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The Female Genital Cutting Debate: An Argument for Compromise

From Amnesty International's anti-genital mutilation campaign

When families come to American doctors seeking the traditional practice of Female Genital Cutting, is it better to offer them a “ritual nick” — a symbolic pinprick — or turn them away and possibly prompt them to find the service under far less safe conditions? The American Academy of Pediatrics caused a stir last month by advocating the ritual nick in a new policy statement written by a team of expert consultants who laid out the case for choosing what they saw as the lesser of evils. Now the AAP has reversed its position, saying in a statement this week: “The AAP reaffirms its strong opposition to FGC and counsels its members not to perform such procedures. As typically practiced, FGC can be life-threatening. Little girls who escape death are still vulnerable to sterility, infection, and psychological trauma. The AAP does not endorse the practice of offering a ‘clitoral nick.’ This minimal pinprick is forbidden under federal law and the AAP does not recommend it to its members.”

Sirens spoke to the lead author of the statement in favor of “nicking,” Dena Davis, a law professor at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Cleveland State University, about the reasoning behind their recommendation, the debate over male circumcision, and the similarities between female genital cutting and plastic surgery:

Sirens: Your statement was more of a suggested compromise on following the cultural tradition of FGC by suggesting a ritual “nick” for families that insist on continuing the practice — since many simply go overseas when they find they can’t get it done here. First, can you explain the basic reasoning behind your recommendation?

Dena Davis: Harm reduction.  Here, the AAP and I assume most people, are not in favor of any form of FGC–but in a real world, given the very real likelihood that these girls will be taken back to their home countries to have terrible things done to them, a tiny nick seems like a reasonable way to avert this greater harm.  A parallel would be needle exchange for drug addicts–we would prefer that no one shot up heroin at all, but given the realities, we think it better to provide them with clean needles and try to protect them from HIV (of course, that’s pretty controversial as well!).

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Vagina Anxiety

What if anyone who’s ever had occasion to be between my thighs has secretly thought, “She’s a cool girl … too bad about those labia”?

This is what I’ve now been forced to think as I peruse my Wall Street Journal, and then again as I read my New York Times Magazine, and then again as I watch a special CNN report. As if the era of the Brazilian bikini wax hadn’t made me nervous enough, with its laying bare of things that used to be covered, now there’s this: Labial plastic surgery and hymen reattachment are apparently all the rage in some circles. Circles with too many resources, to be sure, but also circles that end up foisting their twisted insecurities upon me via esteemed news sources, where I am supposed to be safe from such things.

I am an intelligent, well-adjusted woman with slightly above-average self-esteem (there are plenty of parts of me I don’t like, but I’m unabashedly fond of my legs and abs). So upon hearing about such idiocy, I summoned the requisite outrage. What pigs plastic surgeons are, giving women another source of insecurity! What a travesty, kicking us girls, so to speak, where it counts! Not to mention the risk of losing some of the precious nerve-laden square inches that make that part of us so special to begin with. And the fact that some women in less fortunate parts of the world are forced into genital mutilation … and here some women are paying for a form of it? Ladies, come on.

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