Last month I had the pleasure and privilege to see the documentary 12th & Delaware at the Maryland Film Festival. Filmmakers Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing, who brought us Jesus Camp and The Boys of Baraka, debuted the film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The film’s namesake is an intersection in the town of Fort Pierce, Florida, shared by an abortion clinic and an anti-choice crisis pregnancy center (CPC). Initially they had only planned to film at the CPC, but after a while they felt there was another side to the story that begged to be told.
The filmmakers do not add commentary to the film; they let the activity in- and outside the two buildings speak for itself. The abortion clinic is owned by a middle-aged couple. They peek out their windows to see protesters with signs and tiny plastic baby figurines, calling out to the women heading towards their door. Candace, the woman, treats her patients with kindness and compassion. Their faces are obscured as they explain that they already have three kids to care for, they didn’t want to get pregnant again, or they don’t feel like they have the power to demand that their partners use protection. One says she considers herself a murderer, and Candace tells her not to go through with the procedure if she doesn’t want to.
Every day, the husband drives to a separate location to pick up the clinic doctor. When they return, the doctor’s face is concealed by a sheet inside the passenger side window. The protesters holler at the car and often stand in the driveway as the it pulls in and out. At the end of the day, the husband drives the doctor back to the second location and the doctor drives himself home. One protester makes it his mission to learn the doctor’s identity and find out where the pick up and drop off takes place. He reclines in his car, staking out the local WalMart parking lot until his suspicions are confirmed. Filming took place in the same year as Dr. George Tiller’s murder. The fear is palpable.
Across the street, the literature misinforms patients that abortion causes breast cancer and that 95 percent of women who abort regret their decisions. Anne, the woman who heads up the operation, does whatever it takes to convince women and girls to continue their unplanned pregnancies. She tells one woman with an abusive partner, “For all you know, the baby changes him.” I wanted to cry. Some patients fall for the manipulation. Another laughs bitterly after Anne buys her lunch to butter her up.
I went to the screening with my boyfriend, who was more shocked by what he saw than I was. I read about it every day. The filmmakers took questions after the movie, and I was pleasantly surprised by the pro-choice vibe in the theater. An old man asked how the woman from the CPC could get away with lying to pregnant patients about the ineffectiveness of condoms. People were clearly disturbed by what they’d seen.
The experience affected the filmmakers, as well. Grady remarked that the struggle between the pro-choice and anti-choice camps “has nothing to do with babies. It’s about control, it’s about the power of women and women’s roles, what the purpose of the female gender is, the absolute core of the identity of a woman. It’s so profound and so deep.”
12th & Delaware is an expertly crafted documentary that looks at abortion in a sensitive way. I hope it has as much of an impact as the pair’s earlier films, and I would absolutely recommend seeing it if you have the opportunity.