Hot Docs Review: 12th and Delaware

It’s been 37 years since Roe v. Wade defined America’s abortion laws but the topic still elicits extreme emotions from just about everyone, and in this excellent documentary directors Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing drop viewers right in the middle of the passionate and fierce debate – literally.

On a quiet corner in Fort Pierce, Florida the vehement battle goes on everyday. On one side of the street lies A Woman’s World Medical Center, a clinic that performs abortions.  On a regular basis women in dire situations come to terminate unwanted pregnancies. On the other side of the street lies the Pregnancy Care Center, a church-run pro-life clinic (so similar in appearance it’s often mistaken for the abortion clinic) that aims to stop the practice of abortion one woman at a time. Outside the abortion clinic the patients must deal with the zealous and vocal protesters from across the street who seek to change their minds, often by showing them graphic images and frightening them with horror stories. It’s a difficult situation for both clinics as well as the patients to deal with.

The most remarkable thing about this movie is the ability of the filmmakers to stay impartial. Both sides of the debate are represented equally with each side stating their case in their own way. Grady and Ewing managed to get incredible access to both clinics, interviewing the people who run them and the frightened and confused patients who come to each seeking help. At the pro-life clinic, soldier of God Anne, does everything she can to influence the women (or in many cases young girls) and turn their way of thinking until they see the light. When one of them does she literally weeps with joy. At the abortion clinic, sympathetic Candace and her husband offer women counsel without judgment, often ushering them past the vocal protesters who seek to dissuade them.  They try to educate patients about unsafe sex and consistently remind the women they don’t have to go through with the procedure if they’re having any doubts. When the patients decide to go ahead with it doctors are brought in under a covered sheet in order to protect their identity and keep them safe from the radicals who will make their lives a living hell if their identity is discovered.

12th and Delaware isn’t an easy movie to watch, partly because of the heavy subject matter and partly because it’s hard not to feel and even respect the passion of the people on each side of the argument – even if you disagree with their practices. It doesn’t seek out to change anyone’s opinion, but rather it explores the two sides of one of America’s most impassioned debates and the unfortunate souls caught in the middle of it.  Because ultimately it’s not about the people who provide the service or those who are against it: it’s about the desperate women at the center of the debate who urgently need help – in one form or another.

The Upside: Fairly captures both sides of a debate that’s very difficult to represent impartially.

The Downside: Not enough time is spent with Candace in the abortion clinic and there’s no explanation given as to how or why she and her husband got into the business.

On the Side: This is the second time Grady and Ewing have had to remain impartial about a controversial subject. The first was 2006’s Academy Award nominated Jesus Camp about a Pentacostal camp for kids.

Click here for more coverage of the 2010 Hot Docs Film Festival

Lauren Flanagan is a freelance film and entertainment writer based in Toronto. She writes for several online and print publications and hopes to one day prove to her parents that sitting around watching movies is in fact doing something with your life. She enjoys gangster movies, long walks on the beach, and getting the upper hand. In her spare time she drives around in a van solving mysteries.

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