I went into 12th and Delaware, the new HBO documentary that debuted on August 2, with as open a mind as I could for a film whose central thesis -- the abortion debate -- I have always had very strong feelings about.
The film centers around one street corner in Fort Pierce, Florida. On one side of the street sits an abortion clinic run by a husband and wife, almost always surrounded by protesters holding signs and harassing the women who walk in the building.
On the other side is a "pregnancy care center" designed to try to talk women into having their babies. The same woman who runs the center often stands outside the clinic with signs depicting aborted fetuses.
At first, it seemed like Anne, the woman who runs the center, is kind. But it quickly becomes apparent that she is manipulating women's choices. We have talked about these kinds of centers here before and this film, directed by the same filmmakers (Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady) who made Jesus Camp, shows what really goes on in them.
Women are led into a comfortable space that feels like home. They are offered a pregnancy test. Anne speaks to them for a long time in a comforting, soothing way. There is a lot of waiting and she does what it takes to get them to stay. She shows them little dolls that look like tiny babies, pumps them full of questionable medical information (abortion is dangerous, abortion causes breast cancer), and then offers them an ultrasound, focusing on the beating heart and using any tactics she can to get them to feel guilty -- like typing "hi daddy!" on the text section of one couple's ultrasound.
To be honest, none of that bothered me.
What bothered me was the man who sat outside in the parking lot so he could catch a glimpse of the "abortionist" who had to go into the office covered in a sheet so he could do his job. This man was menacing and dangerous and clearly threatening. I was bothered by the fact that the center lies to women and tells them they are less pregnant than they are so that they take time "to think about it" and then miss their window for a clinic abortion (which typically stops being performed around 14 weeks). I was bothered by the woman who had two children and an abusive boyfriend and Anne's plea that "maybe he would change" if she decided to have the baby.
Sure, he'd change. That always happens, right?
The movie presented both sides evenly and without judgment and I'd like to think I watched it with an open mind. I didn't think the other side was crazy or evil. I just thought they were misguided. They think they are spending all their energy doing something good and I wish they would spend their time doing good in other ways, helping the children who actually exist and who need them the most.
Have you seen this film? What did you think?
Photo via HBO.com