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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

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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