If you consider yourself pro-life, you will likely be upset by “12th and Delaware,” the latest documentary from “Jesus Camp” directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. Actually, viewers of all political and philosophical stripes may find themselves rattled by the 81-minute film, which airs on HBO at 9 p.m. on Monday, August 2.
The film, shot in 2009 and an official selection for this year’s Sundance Film Festival, stakes out a street corner in Fort Pierce, Fla., where an antiabortion “crisis pregnancy center” sits directly across from an abortion clinic. The clinic opened in 1991, while the crisis center bought the building across the street in 1999, and the two have been feuding ever since.
Every abortion clinic has its share of protestors, but with the pro-life Pregnancy Care Center only yards away, the Women’s World Medical Center clinic never has a quiet moment. The documentary illustrates this point in its opening scene. It’s 5 a.m., and a protester — an older woman with an apron full of pamphlets and a small figurine of a baby — is already waiting outside the clinic. “Let God into your life. … This is the work of the devil,” she pleads to Candace, the woman who runs the clinic, who steadily ignores her.
As the day progresses, more people gather around the clinic, setting up tapestries of the Virgin Mary, holding up grotesque signs of what they say are aborted fetuses and promising all kinds of financial help to the women heading into the building. “God made you pregnant, it’s not a mistake. … We’re here to help you,” says the aforementioned protester, while a man in a jeans jacket yells, “95 percent of women tell you they regret their abortion.”
There’s a fair amount of character development given to the two main rivals, Candace with Women’s World Medical Center and Anne, executive director of the Pregnancy Care Center. A religious woman who is unmarried, childless and without many other responsibilities, Anne spends her days trying to convince women to keep their babies with various pamphlets full of facts about how abortion causes breast cancer, graphic videos that supposedly depict abortion procedures and offers of free McDonald’s lunches.
Because the center offers free ultrasounds, it’s often full of teenagers and young women who couldn’t afford the procedure otherwise and whom Anne ranks based on whether they are “abortion-minded” or not. Some of the undecided ones, like 15-year-old Wildine and 17-year-old Brittney, are vulnerable enough to be open to Anne’s calm advice about how an abortion can kill a woman. But when Brittney goes through with the procedure anyway, Anne can’t help but take it personally, breaking into tears. “I think I’m at a point where I do really understand that this battle is just so vicious, and that the evil is so powerful and so brutal, that I really think God’s doing everything he can,” she says while wiping her face. “It will end, I know that. I just don’t think it’s going to be pretty.”
Just as committed to the cause is another protester named Tony, a bearded and muscled guy who only takes off his mirrored shades when the cops come over to respond to a complaint about their signs. Otherwise, he keeps them on when shouting at women who walk into the clinic or arguing with a mother who stops her car to argue Scripture.
Tony is at his most horrifying when he proudly admits that he knows where one of the doctors that works at the clinic gets picked up and dropped off — the parking lot of a Wal-Mart Supercenter. “Someone came up with the idea” that it’s a woman right to choose, Tony complains while holding up a file on the doctor before the man shows up. “Unfortunately, that is not true.” After the doctor gets back to his car, Arnold begins to follow him, and talks of how his dream is to one day know where all the abortion-performing doctors in his area live and publicly release their names. Based on his aggression during the last hour or so of the documentary, you can’t help but wonder if he would do more.
That fear is exactly what Candace tries to keep at bay when helping women at the clinic, she explains during the last third of the documentary. But after browsing through a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about violence against abortionists and pro-choice supporters and learning that the Pregnancy Care Center across the street misinformed a woman about how far along she was in her pregnancy, Candace can no longer control her anger. “Why are you messing up these girls’ lives? … They talk that person into having another baby and promise her everything in the world … and then they don’t deliver. I’ve heard that story over and over again,” she says.
It’s an old debate, and an endless, emotional, painful one. But “12th and Delaware” offers viewers an intimate look at the people on the front lines. Depending on which side you stand on, you may be enraged by what you see, or you could be enlightened. It’s your choice.