The Least Bad Option
Americans will declare war on almost anything. Like most nations in history, we declare war on other governments. But we have also made a habit of declaring war on ideologies (Communism, Islamic extremism), on broadly defined patterns of violence (terrorism, piracy), and even on abstract social ills (poverty, drugs). And then there are the “culture wars,” a lazy phrase that at one point served as a shorthand for the political agenda of the Christian right, but which has recently expanded to refer to any controversial topic that doesn’t involve tax brackets or firing cruise missiles into foreign countries. Guns, medical marijuana, zoning regulations, soda bans, physician-assisted suicide, rent-controlled apartments, Citibikes, and the Pledge of Allegiance all are part of the culture wars according to one respected commentator or another.
But there is one front in the culture war where the word “war” doesn’t seem like overheated rhetoric, where real bullets are fired and where real bombs are thrown: the struggle over the availability and scope of abortion. It’s the hot-button social issue that stubbornly continues to divide Americans even as other bones of contention like recreational drug use and gay rights inch reliably towards liberalization. And the white-hot beating heart of the abortion debate—its bloodiest battlefield—is the question of late-term (i.e., third-trimester) abortions.
Late-term abortions and the forces arrayed for and against them are the subject of a wrenching new documentary, After Tiller, which opens in New York later this month. The film profiles the four remaining doctors in the United States who perform late-term abortions, all of whose lives were touched in one way or another by George Tiller, the Kansas-based, late-term abortion provider gunned-down by an anti-abortion extremist while attending Sunday church services three years ago. In the aftermath of Tiller’s slaying, Randall Terry, founder of the antiabortion group Operation Rescue, called Tiller a “mass murderer” who “reaped what he sowed.” Despite widespread condemnation, the killer got what he wanted: late-term abortions are no longer available in Kansas. Residents now must travel 500 miles to Denver for the procedure.