PBS Frontline: "The Last Abortion Clinic"

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Raney Aronson
Producer
Wednesday, November 9, 2005; 11:00 AM

Today, the headlines are filled with speculation about changes in the U.S. Supreme Court and what those changes might mean for abortion -- an issue that has divided the country for over 30 years. Heated rhetoric from both sides continues to be heard in courtrooms and on the campaign trail. But while attention is often focused on the arguments, there is another story playing out in local communities.

Pro-life advocates have waged a successful campaign to reduce abortions in many places throughout the country. By using state laws to regulate and limit abortion and by creating their own clinics to offer alternatives to women, they have changed the facts on the ground. Frontline investigates the steady decline in the number of physicians and clinics performing abortions and focuses on local political battles in states like Mississippi, where only a single clinic performs the controversial procedure.

"The Last Abortion Clinic" airs Tuesday, November 8, at 9 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings).

Producer Raney Aronson was online Wednesday, Nov. 9, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the film "The Last Abortion Clinic."

The transcript follows.

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Atlanta, Ga.: I am a woman that believed the lies that I was told by an an abortion facility in Atlanta in 1978 and had an abortion as I was led to believe this was my only choice. There was no "counseling", just sign your name here, give us your money and we will take care of "your problem" in just a matter of minutes. I was never told that the problem was "my baby". I almost died by bleeding to death weeks after and was never helped by that clinic, only told NOT to call my doctor. What makes pro-choice people afraid of showing the client an "ultrasound"? I believe the ultrasound is the answer to woman that are just unsure and afraid of what to do. Let her see the ultrasound, and most of the time, she chooses life for her and her baby. Believing the lies that I was told, "it is just a clump of tissue and cells", I went through with the abortion and have regretted it every day of my life. For 25 years I lived in a pit of hell, not being able to forgive myself. It is about time that woman know the truth, that woman obtain "rights" and women are protected! Abortion is not the best we can do for women. America, you gave us a choice, now you must hear our voice, hear the truth of how abortion hurts women, families and kills our babies!

I enjoyed the show and although I know that it was to be unbiased, I thank you for showing it, as I believe you did a lot for the pro life side, you did show some of the truth!

Raney Aronson: I'm sorry for your painful experience. Many of the Crisis Pregnancy Centers (they're also called Pregnancy Resource Centers) offer post abortion support groups - and the same type of support is offered by groups on the pro choice side. Many from the pro life side would agree with you that ultrasound technology is a real way to "open up the womb" as Barbara Beavers said in our show. In fact there is a bill being proposed in the House that would allow the Federal Government to give grants to CPCs and other groups for ultrasound machines -- because the Representative who is proposing it feels so strongly about this. On the other hand, some from the pro choice side would argue that an ultrasound should not be used for reasons that are medically unnecessary -- and they would argue that in some cases the counseling that comes along with the ultrasound is biased and against abortion generally.

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Seattle, Wash.: I am very curious how RU486 affects the whole abortion clinic issue. All that's needed is a doctor's prescription -- no clinic. Does this render the entire issue presented by Frontline mute? I wish you had touched on this.

Raney Aronson: Thanks for your question - and of course, had we had more time we would have included the interesting questions surrounding RU486 (or Mifeprex). Many on the pro choice side believe that the morning after pill and RU486 will change things and make it easier on women. However, what we found in Mississippi is that many of the pharmacists would decline offering these as options, and we also reported that many doctors would not prescribe them. This is also true in other parts of the country, although we didn't report on it. It is an interesting question about the future though -- although my belief is that even if there is more access to the morning after pill and RU486 it will not make the entire issue of access to abortion irrelevant.

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Beverly, Mass.: Is the pro-life movement mostly a Christian phenomenon? Are other faiths as involved, committed, energized about abortion?

Raney Aronson: This is a great question - I wondered the same thing. What I found was that by and large the leadership inside the pro-life movement is indeed Christian, but many that support them are not -- in particular I met people of both the Jewish and Muslim faith along the way that supported the pro-life movement.

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Jackson, Miss.: You mentioned in an interview that most of your film ended up on the cutting room floor. Tell us a story that was meaningful to you, that was cut from the final showing.

Raney Aronson: Every documentary filmmaker will tell you - one of the most painful parts of the process is what ends up on the cutting room floor! There were many things I wished I could have included -- we did a wonderful group interview with Americans United for Life and unfortunately that didn't make it in. We also spent a number of days with the Center for Pregnancy Resources and had hours of footage we didn't include which I regret. We also spent weeks filming inside the abortion clinic which we show in our film - interviewing social workers, doctors and many patients which I would have loved to include. But as always, we have just under 53 minutes...so we have to make hard choices on what to include...and the good news is as disappointed as I am that we couldn't include it all, I feel we did make the right decisions in the end!

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Washington, D.C.: I just wanted to thank you for a well-done and stunning documentary. I've heard many commentators say that if Roe were overturned and abortion left completely to the states, most places would still allow abortion and there would be no problem. This film shows how unrealistic that is for places like Mississippi, with one clinic in the whole state to obtain an abortion even in a post-Roe/post-Casey environment. Why is there any reason to think that if left to their own devices, Mississippi and other southern states would not outlaw abortion altogether? In some ways it seems they already have.

Raney Aronson: I think you're right in the sense that some states (a minority of states) have made it clear that if Roe v. Wade was overturned they would make abortion illegal -- but the pro-life side believes very strongly that states should be allowed to have their own identity - in other words that the issue should be returned to the people to decide (Clark Forsythe a senior attorney from AUL makes this point in our film). The pro-choice side clearly agrees with you - and feels that states should not be able to decide this issue and that it needs to be a constitutionally protected right.

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Arlington, Va.: Your show did an excellent job of explaining the legal tactics of the anti-abortion movement, and in particular the effects on rural, poor women. Can you also talk about how these tactics are affecting the availability of abortion in cities and for those who can afford abortions? For example, I've read the number of doctors who are trained or who will perform the procedure is decreasing and there may be other barriers people are unaware of.

Raney Aronson: We found in our research that indeed the number of abortion providers are decreasing even inside urban centers --but for the most part in every major city in America there is an abortion clinic. So, accessing abortion is harder inside cities, but less so than in the rural part of the country which is why we focused on that area rather than urban centers.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Does PBS plan to run the show again? I just heard about it this morning and I'm so sorry I missed it. Thank you for making it available online, and I'll watch it there if I have to, but would rather be able to watch on the TV if possible.

Also, I imagine that you may be attacked by some for a "liberal agenda" but from what I've heard so far, the program just lays out the facts of the situation as it exists today... in which case I'd like to offer a pre-emptive rejoinder that facts, by definition, have no agenda. Thanks for being unafraid to make this program.

Raney Aronson: Thanks for your comments and we do hope you can watch. You can go on our Web site: pbs.org/frontline/clinic and check your local listings for when we reair the show.

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Milwaukee, Wis.: What is being done in Wisconsin? Midwest states? Is there any organization which is challenging the state courts or is it just Planned Parenthood?

Raney Aronson: There are many pro-choice groups working to challenge abortion regulations - namely the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York, the ACLU and others. Planned Parenthood actually works alongside groups like the ACLU to fight against abortion regulations.

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Willis, Tex.: Why examine this question without presenting the arguments clearly and completely for the side supporting abortion rights?

We live in a world that is rapidly becoming over-populated, with tremendous strains on natural resources. Do we want to require a young unmarried woman bring a child into this world that she is unable to care for? The same people that say yes, say no to taxes that can help make her life with a child more viable. They also do not want the increase in crime from children improperly raised by mothers incapable of providing a proper home.

The horrors we have seen with illegal or self-induced abortions are a horrible part of our history that no one should want to repeat.

There are many reasons the availability of abortion is an important part of achieving health of women, as well as the health of our nation and our world. With so many ways to keep people living longer, we must not bring large numbers of people into the world that are unwanted. Overpopulation may one day destroy the world's ecosystem and much of the human race along with it.

Raney Aronson: If you go to our FRONTLINE Web site you will see the extended interviews - if the portion of the interview with the abortion clinic owner in our film didn't answer these questions you can read her extended interview, as well as others in the film from the pro-choice side, and of course we include the interviews from the pro-life side as well as you're interested in reading more about these issues.

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Ellicott City, Md.: Before Roe v. Wade, well-to-do white women across the country could get abortions from their doctors. The procedure used was a D & C. I can't imagine that wealthy Mississippi women today don't do the same thing. Any data on the number of D&C procedures in restrictive states versus liberal states?

Tired of fighting for my rights.

Raney Aronson: I don't actually know the answer to your specific question - but, we do know that the state of Mississippi, for example, has a lower abortion rate than the national average.

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Oakton, Va.: I know a married couple who found out in month five of the pregnancy that the baby had a severe genetic defect and although it would develop to nine months once it was outside the mother it would die, no question. Also, if the mother carried the baby to term and delivered her life would have been in serious jeopardy. So, of course, they decided to terminate the pregnancy. Due to Virginia laws they had to go to Maryland to have the procedure done. I'd like to know what the reasoning is behind so called pro-lifers on this issue...when an abortion is medically necessary in order to save the life of the mother. Are they not pro-life when it comes to the mother? Don't they believe a woman in physical peril should have access to medical care that will save her life? Or is the life of a mother making this decision not as valuable as the fetus that won't survive anyway? Abortion clinics are a necessity in order to preserve life also.

Raney Aronson: I don't know the answers to all your questions and I'm not familiar with the law in Virginia that made it necessary for your friend to leave the state - but I do know that in many of the state abortion regulations there are exceptions made for rape, incest, the death of the mother or in the case of severe fetal anomalies.

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