The Only Four Doctors in the U.S. Who Perform Third-trimester Abortions Go Public with Documentary

Doctors LeRoy Carhart, Warren Hern, Susan Robinson and Shelley Sella at the film's premiere. On the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a new documentary about the only four doctors in the U.S. who perform third-trimester abortions has premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

The film is titled 'After Tiller' in acknowledgment of the murder of George Tiller, a doctor who continued to perform third-trimester abortions in Kansas in spite of the many threats made against his life. Tiller's clinic was bombed in 1989. In 1993, Tiller survived an attack outside his clinic, only to be gunned down as he was leaving church in 2009 by an anti-abortion extremist.

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There are only three states in the U.S. that allow abortion into the third-trimester of pregnancy. The definition of "third-trimester" is itself controversial. According to the Mayo Clinic, the third trimester doesn't begin until the 28th week of pregnancy. The physicians featured in this documentary define it as the 25th week of pregnancy or later. As "late-term" abortion is defined differently on a state-by-state basis, each state has a different definition of the third trimester.

The four physicians, LeRoy Carhart, Shelley Sella, Susan Robinson and Warren Hern, operate out of New Mexico, Nebraska, and Colorado. After Dr. Tiller was murdered in 2009, these four became the only doctors in the U.S. who continue to perform this controversial procedure.

Not only is the documentary's subject matter controversial, the physicians' decision to go public could be called foolhardy, as they regularly receive threats on their lives from anti-abortion groups. One doctor had five shots fired through the front window of his office.

There are approximately 1.2 million abortions performed in the U.S. per year, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a group associated with Planned Parenthood. The CDC reports only around 100 of those, approximately .01 percent, occur past 24 weeks. The film follows the agonizing decisions of the patients and the doctors as they terminate pregnancies for a number of reasons-most often after a discovery that the fetus suffers from a serious illness or disorder that would greatly reduce its quality of life.

Ninety-four percent of people who support a woman's right to choose said in a 2011 Gallup Poll they thought third-trimester abortion should be illegal.

Obviously, the film deals with a very rare and highly controversial type of abortion. But the doctors involved claim that any limitations on abortion procedures are an infringement on women's reproductive rights. The film comes on the heels of last year's "War on Women," when conservative leaders attempted to impose more limits on abortion and contraception on Capitol Hill.

In the documentary, Dr. Robinson explains why she continues to perform third- trimester abortions. "People tell me every single day, 'Dr. Robinson, you've given me my life back.' For these women it is life or death. Many women try to self-abort." And, she points out, "The less available [abortion] is, the poor will have the hardest time."

She goes on to say that many of the women who come to her have traveled from state to state to terminate their pregnancy. "This woman has struggled with this decision, herself. She's not coming because she saw the clinic while she was on her way to the grocery store. Underlying all of what I do is the belief that women are capable of having ethical struggles, working on ethical questions and arriving at the best decisions for themselves."

After Tiller Trailer 1-14-13 from iyabo Boyd on Vimeo.