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FRONTLINE: The Abortion Divide

Airs Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV + Thursday, Aug. 29 at 10 p.m. on KPBS 2

At a Pennsylvania abortion clinic, women face unplanned pregnancies and prote...

Credit: Courtesy of Vanessa Carr for FRONTLINE

Above: At a Pennsylvania abortion clinic, women face unplanned pregnancies and protesters outside. This is Dr. Monique Ruberu, a pro-life OBGYN. She prays outside the clinic on most Saturdays and considers herself a sidewalk counselor, offering information to women as they enter the clinic for abortion services.

FRONTLINE Goes Inside America’s Fight Over Abortion in “The Abortion Divide”

In 1983 — 10 years after Roe v. Wade — a landmark FRONTLINE documentary, “Abortion Clinic,” showed the experience of and conflict over abortion like never before on American television.

Now, 36 years later, FRONTLINE returns to Pennsylvania to look at both sides of the abortion debate in “The Abortion Divide.”

From producers Mark Obenhaus and Elizabeth Leiter, this film offers a window into the sometimes difficult and deeply personal choices women face with unplanned pregnancy — and examines the steadfast belief of the anti-abortion community that there should be no choice at all.

“I returned to Pennsylvania and found a community bitterly divided over abortion in ways I could not have imagined,” says Obenhaus, who directed “Abortion Clinic” for FRONTLINE 36 years ago. “When the first film was shot, security was light....The first thing I notice[d] about the clinic is the bulletproof glass that separates the public areas from the clinic itself.”

“Abortion is a topic that can quickly become overwhelmed by political and legal battles,” says Leiter. “What’s often left out of the conversation are the real human experiences and the complex decisions that women face. That’s where we hope this documentary sheds light.”

"The Abortion Divide" - Preview

FRONTLINE goes inside the fight over abortion, told through the stories of women struggling with unplanned pregnancies. Drawing on a landmark FRONTLINE film from the 1980s, the documentary takes a look at both sides of the abortion divide in a community still embroiled in the conflict.

With intimate access, the film follows women struggling with unplanned pregnancies, doctors and nurses who provide abortions, as well as those who counsel women against the procedure.

“My conviction is that life begins at conception,” says Dr. George Isajiw, the Pennsylvania State Director of the Catholic Medical Association.

FRONTLINE first spoke with Dr. Isajiw while filming “Abortion Clinic,” and 36 years later, he maintains his conviction: “Every baby, by the time you even recognize that there’s a pregnancy, is already an individual unique human being...who is not only unique, but the soul will survive the death.”

In both films, anti-abortion protestors serve as a constant reminder of the intensity of the conflict – and in recent years, there has been an increase in abortion clinic invasions and threats against providers.

Dr. Lisa Perreira of the Philadelphia Women’s Center tells FRONTLINE she has experienced this firsthand: “I’m not afraid of being threatened by [protesters], but it is framed in reality, there are people who are violent towards abortion providers,” she says.

Most of the women at the clinic who were asked to participate in “The Abortion Divide” declined, but those who chose to speak told FRONTLINE they wanted their stories to be heard.

“I decided that the best thing for me to do at this point in my life was going to be to terminate the pregnancy,” says Taryn, one woman who spoke with FRONTLINE. “My initial thought was, I should tell no one about this...because it’ll change how people you know, see me fundamentally...or people will judge me for this.”

Shaharra, another woman who candidly shares why she decided to terminate her pregnancy, says: “This is my choice. I don’t want to bring another child into the world and I’m not financially stable.”

In “The Abortion Divide,” FRONTLINE also speaks with nurses and administrators who work at crisis pregnancy centers. Catering to low-income pregnant women by offering free services, these centers’ primary focus is to support women who choose to keep their baby, and to ultimately encourage them to reject abortion.

“If someone is calling to schedule an abortion, I will tell them that we don't perform abortions here because I wanna be truthful with 'em right up front,” says Melanie Parks, the executive director of Amnion Pregnancy Center. “But I always say to them [they have] called the right place...we do have services for them. We use ultrasound as a tool for helping our clients choose life.”

Through inside accounts from providers, patients and activists, “The Abortion Divide” documents the changes in abortion procedures and practices – and illustrates the reality that the battle over abortion in America seems to be far from over.

Watch On Your Schedule:

Episodes of FRONTLINE become available for streaming on demand at pbs.org/frontline simultaneously with each broadcast.

Join The Conversation:

FRONTLINE is on Facebook, Instagram, tumblr, and you can follow @frontlinepbs on Twitter. #frontlinePBS

Credits:

A FRONTLINE production with Obenhaus Films Inc. The director is Elizabeth Leiter. The producers are Mark Obenhaus and Elizabeth Leiter. The writer is Mark Obenhaus. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath.

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