12th & Delaware is the latest feature documentary from Oscar-nominated co-directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, the filmmakers behind the excellent Jesus Camp, which took a disturbing look at the religious indoctrination practices at a Pentacostal summer camp for children. Their latest finds them focusing on the abortion/pro-life issue, as told through the events that occur at an abortion clinic called A Woman's World Medical Center, and the church-afilliated Pregnancy Care Center, which just happens to be on the opposite side of the street, at the intersection of 12th Street and Delaware Avenue in Fort Pierce, Florida. The setting is practically ready-made for a re-examining of the ongoing, incendiary American debate, and Ewing and Grady take a decidedly neutral approach in showing both sides of this divisive issue. Slightly more screen time seems to have been given to the Pregnancy Care Center side, but not in a way that slants things in the pro-life direction.
The center is run by a woman named Anne, who appears genuinely invested emotionally in her work and the cause she believes in. Losing patients that decide to opt for an abortion brings her close to tears and "wins" (patients choosing to not terminate their pregnancy) elicit equally emotional responses of joy. Some of the Pregnancy Care Center's methods appear to border on the unethical, or just plainly are. Misinformation is given about the actual abortion process, how reliable condoms are, patients are falsely told that abortions can cause breast cancer, and some patients are informed (as alleged by Candace, the operator of the abortion clinic) that they're not as far along in their pregnancies as they actually are, increasing the chances that by the time they make a decision they'll be too far along to legally obtain an abortion. Then there's those manipulative "Hi Daddy" and "Hi Mommy" "messages" from the fetus that get added by technicians to the ultrasound printouts for the parent or parents.
Life over at A Woman's World Medical Center appears significantly more stressful for Candace and her husband. Threats of violence and vandalism are an everyday worry, and while the clinic hasn't monetarily brought the couple anything more than a modest lifestyle, Candace is also strongly dedicated to her work, believing women need a place like hers that gives them an option. Picketers are a constant presence outside the clinic, many of whom fit your "religious nut" category. They walk around with signs showing gruesome pictures of aborted fetuses, harangue young women (and teenagers) as they exit and leave the clinic, amusingly preach their beliefs while standing outside closed windows of the clinic and speaking loudly, and one particularly scary pro-lifer even stalks/stakes out one of the rendezvous drop-off points where the doctors who perform the abortions get picked up by Candace's husband in a bright yellow Mustang (the doctors follow such a protocol and are brought to the clinic which sheets covering them to protect their identities). The Mustang is effectively used several times by Ewing and Grady, with its ominous starting roar and its slow backing out of the clinic's garage acting as a potent little dramatic enhancement in the movie.
Whenever I see a film or television show that manages to get people to open up on such intensely personal issues I marvel at how brave/stupid/attention-starved they are. I would categorize the women who visited the clinic or center that talked to the Ewing and Grady as more brave than the other two adjectives, but my mind still boggles that the directors got as much insight into these women's minds as they did. Combine this with a well-rounded look at the two medical facilities and their principals, and the result is that the filmmakers have managed to assemble a compelling, thoughtful film about a very tough subject that refrains from taking sides or editorializing, just letting the facts and happenings speak for themselves.