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In The Abortion Trenches: 12th & Delaware

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Our political culture tends to attract those who are too willing to compromise and those who absolutely refuse to compromise. The recent health care reform battle demonstrated that President Obama is in the too willing group and the congressional Republicans, refusing to budge, are in the stand-your-ground group. The result will be watered down health care legislation.

This insightful film, 12th and Delaware, by filmmakers Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing, who also made Jesus Camp, focuses on an issue where compromise for both sides is nonexistent. Instead of weak results there is gridlock. Sometimes, however, gridlock is the best possible outcome -- even when you wish resolution was possible.

In 1991 an abortion clinic opened at the corner of South 12th and Delaware Streets in Fort Pierce, Florida. Eight years later, a pro-life Pregnancy Care Center moved in across the street. In America there are some 816 abortion clinics and approximately 4,000 anti-abortion centers. In Fort Pierce they stand directly across from each other.

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This excellent documentary carries us right into the battle that won't end. There are the pro-life protesters holding signs, horribly shocking signs with pictures of bloody fetuses, sometimes dismembered fetuses. They talk a lot about God's word and they preach about morality. They use deception - hey, God is on their side! When someone accidentally walks into the Pregnancy Care Center mistaking it for the abortion clinic, the mistake is exploited by the anti-abortion group.

And the anti-abortionists, maintaining a presence on the sidewalk in front of the abortion clinic, scream at the entering young women: "Don't go in there. You're not the mother of a dead baby, you come out of there and you'll be the mother of a dead baby." Some simply yell, "Murderer!"

As for the abortion clinic, the atmosphere is more hunkered-down. They escort patients inside and protect the identity of doctors by covering them with sheets when entering the clinic. The workers peer through slightly parted curtains to keep tabs on the demonstrators walking up and down the sidewalk. And unlike the other side, in the abortion clinic the workers take a much more neutral stand with the pregnant women.

Finally, in the film the threat of violence is palpable - not crafted by the filmmakers, but implied in the speech, the demeanor, and the body language of certain anti-abortionist protesters. There is danger in the air, giving the film an edge.

With each side remaining resolute, unwilling to compromise, resolution is of course impossible. No issue is probably more antithetical to resolution. After all, one side is opposed to ALL abortions. How is it possible to negotiate with people absolute in their beliefs and total in their opposition to compromise? It isn't possible.

On the most fundamental level, this intriguing documentary chronicles a modern day battle between the Bible and the Magna Carta. There is religious dogma, and the principles of the Enlightenment. There is the will of God, and the power of human reason. There is human duty, and freedom of choice. To bridge all of this is nearly impossible.

What gives this film power, however, are not large concepts, but the close and personal when the filmmakers take us right inside the fortresses of both camps. This allows us to listen to both sides, witness their anger and outrage, and see their determination. The camera on the wall in the abortion clinic and the anti-abortion presents a fascinating portrayal of the two groups.

It's doubtful that watching this documentary will change anyone's mind. Like other seemingly endless stalemates -- Palestine and Israel, gun control and gun rights -- resolution does not come from viewing a film. Nor, unfortunately, does it come from our political system.

Yet, after viewing 12th and Delaware at the Sundance Film Festival, I couldn't help but feel this film gives our national non-dialogue a nudge toward a serious attempt to end this endless battling. I guess a documentary as revealing in the details and of the personalities as 12th and Delaware pushes one to hoping. Which, with the abortion issue, is nearly a miracle.

Q&A with filmmakers Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing

Give us a short description of 12th & Delaware

12th & Delaware is a documentary that takes place over one year on a single street corner in coastal Florida. On one side of the street stands an abortion clinic and on the other a pro-life operation whose single objective is to persuade women who are considering abortion to continue their pregnancy.

We discovered these pro-life organizations (known as "crisis pregnancy centers" or CPC's) while filming Jesus Camp, and to our knowledge no filmmaker had unveiled the goings-on of any of the 4,000 such places in the United States. CPC's represent the primary and most powerful strategy in today's pro-life movement, and our intention was to shine a light on what happens inside.

What led you to do this documentary?

Abortion has been covered exhaustively and is one of the most passionately debated issues in this country. However we felt that the women who are faced with this decision have been basically left out of the conversation. We wanted to get inside this decision and hopefully shed new light on a polemical issue that has successfully generated slogans and political platforms, but in the end is actually about someone. Who are these women? We felt that this was a fresh opportunity to add to a conversation that seems to have come to a dead end

Where do you stand, and your film, on this very emotionally charged issue?

Our intention is to let the viewer make their own decisions, and go through their own process. The women who run the clinics on either side of the street are committed soldiers who have their firm positions, and see the issue in black and white. The women who are seeking help become part of this debate unintentionally and only for a brief moment in time. They are the gray area that all good and important stories come from.

Did you run into any major problems when making the film?

The biggest challenge we had making this film was getting access to the pro-life organization. Finding a crisis pregnancy center that would allow us to film inside was a daunting task, as they normally do not seek national attention, and in fact their success is linked to staying "under the radar." However, the group that allowed us in ultimately feels as if their work is noble, and they feel they have nothing to hide.

What did you learn from doing this film?

If this country represents the closest the world has to gender equality, women are screwed. We witnessed a lot of self-loathing, cruelty, guilt, rage, and terror on this unassuming quiet corner, and we fear there is a lot more of this going on.

Since making this film, are you more optimistic, more pessimistic, or unchanged about the resolution of this issue? How did making this film affect you?

This is the most difficult subject matter that we have delved into to date. Unfortunately it left us more pessimistic, as this conflict seems to be intractable. We don't think there will ever be "resolution" as there has been abortion as long as there have been pregnancies, and there have been people against it since there have been abortions. This issue goes to the very core of what women's role on the planet is, and this is a debate that will never go away.