Overview: Although 44 years have passed since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade recognized a woman’s right to choose, abortion remains one of the most polarizing issues in America. Since 2011, more than half of the states have imposed significant restrictions on abortion, including in Missouri, where only one abortion clinic remains open in the entire state, and patients and their doctors must navigate a 72-hour waiting period.
ABORTION: STORIES WOMEN TELL offers an intimate window into the lives of women living in Missouri. Tracy Droz Tragos (winner of the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Documentary for Rich Hill), a native of the state, sheds new light on the issue, focusing not on the debate, which is typically dominated by legislators and advocates, but on women’s personal stories. It presents a candid dialogue about one of the most divisive and timely issues facing America today.
Expectations: My first thoughts on the matter is that this is going to be several minutes of emotional talking heads detailing their rationale with going through the controversial procedure. Each story told is a unique experience but by the film’s end, we will have covered the gamut of reasons why women go through with it; immaturity, economic instability, unhealthy pregnancy for either the mother or fetus or whatever the case may be.
Upon seeing the trailer I now realize that not just the distressed women get to tell their side of the issue but also that Pro-Life advocates and care providers will also weigh in on abortion from their perspectives giving a better-rounded look at the topic. Now to see they have to say and what I take away from it.
Gut Reaction: A few quick points to be made before diving into the heart of the documentary. First, this is the first look at abortion on HBO in quite a long time. Clearly, it illustrates that the controversy and debate still rage on. If you are not going to focus strictly on the biological/medical aspects of the practice of abortion then you cannot ignore the debate over the topic because the ideological side is intertwined with any personal story a woman might tell about the matter. It is unavoidable. More on that thought below. The second point is that I am not going to debate the issue here nor state my views on the matter. This documentary tries to balance Pro-Choice and Pro-Life stances. Though it didn’t have to take that approach the filmmaker does attempt to give an unbiased look and so do I here. All of this, however, fails for me.
It is not a God-awful documentary, but it does not deliver what I thought it should or what it claimed it would present. Let me first pull a quote from the overview to make my point: [the filmmaker] “sheds new light on the issue, focusing not on the debate, which is typically dominated by legislators and advocates, but on women’s personal stories.” Here is the problem with that statement, I felt no new light was shed at all, there was time spent on the debate of the matter by attending Pro-Choice rallies & protest lines. Now, I can be a bit forgiving here because you can’t talk to an adamant Pro-Life advocate without visiting such places, but don’t declare that you are not centering on the debate and then take the camera right to the heart of that debate. You just contradicted yourself.
The last point to make really, and it is a big one, is that no full personal story is offered. A number of stories told were quick sound bites with no depth to the person at all. One intriguing story was never developed and told. In the film, there is a Pro-Life guest speaker who admitted that she had three abortions in her life. How did a Pro-Life advocate become such after that? What was her story? That was an opportunity lost and the film suffered for it.
Don’t get me wrong there is some powerful testimony here, from both sides of the issue including clinic workers who have to endure protesters outside their door all day, every day as well as attends the distraught women coming into the facility. The main locale filmed was a clinic in Illinois. It seems a number of Missouri women travel out of state to that clinic because the laws are less strict there than in their home state. In fact, the real grumble the filmmaker focused on was the laws of the state of Missouri once again focusing on the political debate more than the stories they were to tell.
Oh, enough already. It is just not the documentary I was expecting at all.
Bonus: A website has been set up to give other women the opportunity to tell their stories if you are so inclined. Go here – storieswomentell.com.
In Conclusion: I just think ABORTION: STORIES WOMEN TELL didn’t present what it claimed it was going to. The stories are glossed over. If you want a film about the debate as it stands for the women of Missouri and a clinic in Illinois than see this documentary. Oh, I can walk away with one more thought. Regardless of what side of the issue you stand on do those clinic workers and their patients deserve the constant berating they get from those opposed? Hell, no.
Next: The country is all over the opioid epidemic and HBO looks at it in WARNING: THIS DRUG MAY KILL YOU debuting 05.01 at 10:00pm.