After nearly four decades since the Supreme Court legalized abortion, the debate continues to rage on in the United States about when life begins and just how much power a woman has over her own body. The broader controversy is told in a personal doc, "12th & Delaware," which was one of the most talked about films at this year's Sundance Film Festival. The film, by veteran filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, will have its premiere tonight on HBO.
"12th & Delaware" centers on the quiet intersection of Delaware Ave. and 12th Street in Fort Pierce, Florida. The suburban neighborhood has become a hot spot for the raging culture wars. One one corner is a small abortion clinic. Across the street is the Pregnancy Care Center, a pro-life office that is intended to lure abortion seekers inside to try and dissuade them from terminating their pregnancies.
"We were pitching HBO something else, but then [HBO executive] Sheila Nevins provocatively asked us, 'What the hell is this Pregnancy Care Center? What is that? Why don't you pitch me that...?'"
The directing duo discovered the Pregnancy Care Center while filming their Oscar-nominated doc, "Jesus Camp." Funded by a Catholic group, the office is often mistaken as an abortion clinic by unsuspecting women. When they enter, the likable woman who runs the office, Anne, passionately tries to dissuade the women from having an abortion. Promises of financial help, groceries and other help is generously heaped on the women, some of whom have many children already.
"We were embraced by this Catholic center," Grady noted. "There are Pregnancy Care Centers run by evangelical groups, but I was happy we went with a Catholic one because had we decided to go with an evangelical one, then there might have been a rehash of some of the issues we covered in 'Jesus Camp.' We didn't want to make a sequel to that film and this definitely isn't."
When women are not in the Pregnancy Care Center, volunteers cross the street holding signs protesting the abortion clinic. The clinic's owner drives daily to rendez vous with the establishment's doctor who is driven to the clinic under a blanket. Meanwhile, a counselor at the abortion clinic rarely steps outside her office fearing intimidation from pro life protestors on the sidewalk.
"They feel like they're under siege," Grady told indieWIRE at Sundance in January. "Candace almost never goes outside," added Heidi. "Pregnancy Care Centers have been around for 40 years and they have figured out where the line is legally. Nothing that happens at Anne's place is illegal."
In Florida, women are required to have an ultra sound, which the Pregnancy Care Center offers for free, also luring in women. While the film focuses on one particular abortion clinic and one Pregnancy Care Center, Ewing and Grady say their presence is ubiquitous across America. Bitter fighting between the opposing sides has become well entrenched and the fallout, perhaps ironically, has been the women the two sides say they're there to serve. Today, there are about 4,000 pro-life Pregnancy Care Centers vs a little over 800 abortion clinics in the U.S.
"The fact that they won't cede any ground is problematic for women. The two sides can be so extreme and the people who are stuck in the middle are the women," said Ewing. "The stigma is definitely there."
While both filmmakers admit that they do have an opinion on the debate, they do not reveal their personal leanings in the film. At Sundance, the audience perhaps not surprisingly skewed pretty heavily toward the pro-choice side, though a few pro-life people attended a screening I was at, and they complimented the film's approach. "Our opinions are really irrelevant to this movie," Ewing and Grady said to iW. "We simply decided to do this in a cinema verite style and allow the drama to come in the door. And it did."