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Life Arts

Abortion: Stories Women Tell

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"Abortion: Stories Women Tell," directed by Tracy Droz Tragos, looks at one of America's most contentious debates through the prism of personal stories.

The documentary is set in Missouri, where Droz Tragos hails from. The state has one of the toughest abortion laws on the books. Currently, there is only one operative clinic. A seventy-two-hour waiting period was enacted in 2014, with no exception for rape or incest.

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Missouri women seeking an abortion travel to the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Illinois. It's located fifteen minutes away from the downtown area of St. Louis.

Droz Tragos follows the intimate accounts of women as they grapple with the impact of their pregnancies and how the crisis impacts the trajectory of their lives. The insights revealed are quite different from the political pronouncements of elected officials.

A parallel narrative tracks "pro-life" advocates who want to abolish abortion. They are deeply influenced by religious beliefs. They plant themselves at the Hope Clinic to confront patients with graphic photographs, statues of the Virgin Mary, and invective laced with praise for the Lord.

It's an exhausting and disturbing look at two sets of belief systems that are miles apart.

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A husband and wife discuss learning that their developing twelve-week-old has a skull that has not formed and is missing limbs. The genetic defects mean that there will not be survival beyond birth. They self-identify as Christians, who had the support of their pastor in their difficult decision to terminate.

Not all the stories end with an abortion. Te'Aundra, who had dreams of improving her life through higher education, keeps her baby. She had been working two jobs and had been offered a basketball scholarship. Te'Aundra was willing to give up the baby for adoption, but the father was not in agreement with that decision (which could create problems for the adoptive parents down the line). However, he had no interest in helping to raise the child.

Women relate that they are overwhelmed by the basic need to survive. They suffer from a lack of finances, domestic violence, prior drug addiction, or the desire to become an adult before having a baby. Frequently, they are alone and without emotional support. The youngest girls would be kicked out of their homes if they shared the predicament with their families. For women who already have children and can barely keep their heads above water -- another child would sink them.

Those who believe that life begins at conception view their anti-abortion beliefs as a calling -- usually directly from God. Conversations reflect values that maintain abortion is murder and results in eternal damnation. Kathy, who learned from her father that she was almost aborted, reveals that she has always felt "a kinship with the baby in the womb."

One of the strongest interactions in the film takes place at a college student center. On the way there, Reagan, a leader in the Students for Life of America movement, speaks directly to the camera. She explains that she is a different breed of activist than the "stigma of pro-lifers as old, crazy religious nuts." Yet, when she sets up her booth there are handouts asserting that "Abortion=Breast Cancer" and signs saying, "3700 babies aborted daily."

A young woman, close in age to Reagan, confronts her. She recognizes Reagan as an on-site demonstrator who prays at the Planned Parenthood facility where she is an escort.

It's tense.

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"Why protest this organization when it's just one thing [abortion] that it does?" She talks about the women seeking affordable gynecological services. She presses Reagan on who will adopt all the children that don't fit the idealized version of an adoptee. Who will be there for the baby that has physical or mental difficulties, or is from the inner cities? As Reagan packs up her materials, she appears shaken by the pragmatic questions of her challenger.

It is clear that the combination of religion and shame is toxic. 70 percent of adults in Missouri have an absolute belief in God. Belief in Hell among adults is 66 percent. Given these stats, it's not surprising that a young woman who gave up her child for adoption says, "If you have an abortion, you cannot go to heaven."

There is an overt disconnect between the quiet pain of those seeking an abortion and the proselytizing (or harassment, depending on your point of view) of those Christian Missourians who want to "make abortion unthinkable." Shots of the landscape with billboards condemning abortion are pervasive. Rallying cries include, "All in Christ, for Pro-Life." Supporters are revved up with the rhetorical question, "What are you willing to live for or give your life for?"

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Marcia G. Yerman is a writer, activist, artist and curator based in New York City. Her articles--profiles, interviews, reporting and essays--focus on women's issues, the environment, human rights, the arts and culture. Her writing has been (more...)

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