Nearly one fifth of pregnancies in 2014 ended in abortion; but it's not often that you hear women openly telling their stories about these experiences.
In a time when discussing abortion in the U.S. is still seen as taboo and divisive, HBO Documentary Films and filmmaker Tracy Droz Tragos decided to tackle the topic from an often-unheard perspective: That of the women themselves.
"Abortion: Stories Women Tell," released April 3, 2017 on HBO, shares intimate stories from the lives of women living in Missouri, a state with restrictive abortion laws. The film documents the opposing sides of the issue, as well as the countless stances in between, through the broad range of women's stories it tells.
At an advanced screening of the documentary held by Media Matters for America on March 27, 2017 in Washington, D.C., Tragos said she felt the sheer multitude of stories in the film would make it more difficult for viewers to dismiss any particular one of them.
"The hope with this film is that it will encourage this groundswell of more and more storytelling," Tragos said during a panel discussion after the advanced screening. "Of course [abortion] is a very private matter ultimately, but right now there is so much secrecy around it and shame, so we’ve got to encourage even in this very private space as much as possible the sharing of stories...We need more personal stories and less moralizing and judgment."
The main thread of the film follows a 30-year-old pregnant woman named Amie, who already has two children and is not financially prepared to have another. To get the medical abortion she wants, Amie has to travel 150 miles across the state to the Hope Clinic in Illinois.
The other stories highlighted in the film cover a wide range of viewpoints: One young woman passionately shares her anti-abortion beliefs with students on college campuses. One woman explains how she and her husband made a painful decision to have an abortion, despite their Catholic beliefs, because their fetus had been diagnosed with a fatal neural tube defect. Another woman tells the filmmakers about choosing adoption instead of abortion and how difficult the adoption was for her and her family. Yet another woman explains why she became an anti-abortion activist after having three abortions herself. One spends her life protesting abortion and Planned Parenthood, calling out to abortion clinic patients in the parking lot. Another says if she could go back, she probably would have considered abortion because having a child caused her to lose out on an opportunity to attend college on a sports scholarship.
Often, the women's stances on abortion aren't clearly "pro" or "anti;" they are somewhere in the murky in between.
"Media and pop culture are such a powerful tool to start conversations," said Beth Lynk, a press officer at Planned Parenthood who also spoke on the panel. "We know stories move people, so it's about getting them out there more."
Watch the trailer for the documentary here. The full-length documentary was made available on HBO OnDemand after its airing on the channel on April 3, 2017.