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Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019

SIFF Documentary Review: Our Bodies Our Doctors is a timely reminder of the importance of reproductive rights

The Northwest Progressive Institute is pleased to bring you coverage of the Seattle International Film Festival for a second consecutive year.

SIFF 2019 began Saturday, May 16th and runs through June 9th at multiple theaters throughout the Seattle area. There are over four hundred films at the festival this year, including seventy-one documentaries.

With respect to our coverage, I’ll be prioritizing films with a Pacific Northwest connection and films zeroing in on critical social justice issues.

Our Bodies Our Doctors fits both of those criteria. Directed by Portland State University professor emeritus Jan Haaken and featuring doctors in the Seattle and Portland areas, this documentary goes behind the scenes of women’s health clinics in Washington, Oregon, and Oklahoma, and underscores the importance of not just access to abortion, but the imperative of reproductive justice for all.

Reproductive justice is a concept developed in the mid-1990s by black women advocates to view reproductive health care not as in issue separate from other issues, but intersectionally with other issues impacting their lives.

Dr. Willie Parker, MD, Obstetrics and Gynecology (OBGYN), ever-quotable in this film, says “We should be maladjusted to the norms that undermine women, and we should be nonconformists with laws or policies that are not rooted in justice.”

Since the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973, many states have passed laws restricting abortion. Over three-hundred such laws were passed in state legislatures in the United States between 2010 and 2016 alone. And of course just in the last week or so, some of the most restrictive laws have passed in states like Alabama and Georgia.

No matter how many laws are passed to restrict abortion, however, the practice will continue; the laws simply make abortion less safe.

“As long as women get pregnant, abortion is going to need to be around,” says Dr. Andrea Chiavarini, MD, an OBGYN.

Chiavarini lives in Portland, Oregon but travels to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and Wichita, Kansas on regular basis to perform abortions, as there are few doctors and clinics that perform abortions in those states.

Dr. Chiavarini says that she and the nurses and other staff in clinics encourage women to own their own decisions about their lives and bodies, sometimes reassuring women that they have nothing to feel sorry for if they decide to have an abortion. “Just because you are sad about something doesn’t mean it is the wrong thing to do,” says Dr. Chiavarini.

Said another doctor featured in the film: “Just because the circumstances are negative doesn’t mean that the procedure is negative.”

Dr. Deborah Oyer, MD, family medicine, who practices in the Seattle area, says that the stigma around abortion will continue if we don’t talk about it.

This was part of the inspiration and purpose of the film, to show what really happens in clinics and to hear directly from abortion providers.

Dr. Sarah Prager, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UW Medicine, discusses how most doctors are respected and given authority, yet that is not the case for doctors who provide abortions. Rather they can be demonized and become targets of violent extremists.

Even within the medical community, they can sometimes feel isolated, so the family planning community is very tight-knit and supportive of each other.

Some of this isolation is due to the fact that sixty percent of abortions are performed in independent women’s health clinics.

Around the time of the Roe v. Wade decision, abortions were provided in hospitals and major medical centers and were rather straight-forward, but for political reasons, many hospitals stopped providing them and the clinic movement started.

One benefit of the creation of independent women’s clinics was the move away from the patriarchal model of medicine.

“Health centers based on a feminist model, expressing the values of empowering women, it changes the very paternalistic approach of ‘I’m the doctor and I know what’s best for you,'” says Dr. Parker.

Rather, clinics empower women to make their own decisions, and support them throughout the process. However, some laws are designed to confuse and complicate the process, in the hopes of reducing abortions.

A medical assistant at the featured Oklahoma City clinic discusses the long statement that she must read to all patients scheduling an abortion at least seventy-two hours before their procedure.

She says state legislators “cloak laws in language that implies that they are medically necessary, that they are about women’s health, when actually they interfere with our ability to provide safe healthcare to people.”

Reading the statement, she says, confuses and distracts people, and may discourage them from asking questions they may have about the process.

Laws like the seventy-two hour statement in Oklahoma often do not prevent people from getting abortions, but rather, simply delay them.

Which is somewhat ironic, since many in the anti-reproductive freedom movement are most vocal about abortions that happen later in pregnancy.

In the United States, nearly one in three women have an abortion at some point in their lives. Abortion is healthcare. “Our Bodies Our Doctors” provides a glimpse into the clinics and introduces us to some of the dedicated and passionate doctors who provide these necessary health services to women across the country.

The film has two screenings at SIFF, on May 30th and June 1st. See the film, then support organizations that provide women’s reproductive healthcare and those that fight against laws limiting women’s access to care.

You can also donate to support the film getting screened more widely.

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