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Documentary highlights voices left out of abortion debate: the women who have them

A doctor walks into the operating room in a screenshot from "Abortion: The Stories Women Tell."
provided by HBO
A doctor walks into the operating room in a screenshot from "Abortion: The Stories Women Tell."

After the Missouri legislature passed a law in 2014 requiring women to wait 72 hours before terminating a pregnancy, a team of filmmakers started collecting their stories.

They interviewed dozens of women over several months, many of whom had crossed the Mississippi River to go to a clinic in Illinois, where the rules governing abortions are more relaxed.

Their stories appear in Abortion: Stories Women Tellwhich opens in limited theaters Friday and will air later on HBO.

"At the time we were really, really poor ... and my husband was very verbally and physically abusive," said one patient, whose name is Monique. "It was very, very lonely. Because I had nobody to tell." 

The documentary follows staff at the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, and the protesters outside.

“The thing that really came home for me in the making of this film is how personal this is, and how impossible it is to legislate for every circumstance a woman is going to face, and how it’s also impossible to judge,” said Tracy Droz Tragos, the film’s director.

The patients’ stories are varied. Many women mention being too young and wanting to graduate high school, or having other children at home and not being able to support another child. One couple wanted a baby, but found early in the pregnancy that the fetus’ skull did not form — a fatal condition. Others continue with their pregnancies, including a young woman who forgoes a basketball scholarship. One chooses to place her child for adoption.

Perhaps surprisingly, the clinic's workers and the protestors interact often. In one scene, a nurse standing outside the clinic sings the same song as protesters across the street.

Dr. Erin King, the Hope Clinic’s interim executive director, said it’s one of her favorite moments in the film, because it shows a thread of commonality in an issue that is so polarizing.

“We’re all in this together to help women, even if we might come from different angles,” King said.

Reagan Barklage, Midwest Regional Coordinator for Students for Life of America, also appears in the film. Barklage said she was disappointed that the documentary did not differentiate between her and the protesters outside the clinic. 

“It’s sad to be seen as the typical pro-life stereotype of aggressive, harassing outside of an abortion facility,” Barklage said. “Instead of attacking them, let’s try to help them.”  

Tragos, the film's director, said she hopes that by sharing the stories, the women become a bigger part of the abortion debate so often dominated by legislators and activists. 

"It's a damned position where people have a lot of opinions about what you should do with your life," Tragos said. “Women do not get pregnant on their own, yet it is really women who are left with a pregnancy and the decision about how it’s going to affect their lives and their families and their futures."  

Follow Durrie on Twitter: @durrieB