“Our Bodies Our Doctors” tells the story of a rebellion in the field of medicine as a cohort of physicians faces abortion stigma within their own profession and confronts religious control over health care decisions. Their fight takes them into a larger struggle over the heart and soul of American medicine.
It was not very long after the passage of Roe v Wade in 1973 that abortion clinics and doctors came under attack by anti-abortion activists. With clinic bombings, death threats, and harassment targeting providers and their families, it appeared by the 1990s that few doctors were willing to provide this service. But beneath the surface, a quiet rebellion was taking place in the field of medicine. A number of doctors came out publically as abortion providers, even as the larger medical community often viewed them as “rogue physicians.” This rebellion depended heavily on working with women’s freestanding clinics and their feminist allies. “Our Bodies Our Doctors” takes viewers into the lives of these providers and their struggles to provide abortion procedures. It explores the importance of settings founded on feminist principles and their profound impact on models of patient care in mainstream medicine.
The documentary features a cadre of these “rogue” physicians––doctors of different generations who came to train in Oregon and Washington, states with some of the most liberal abortion laws. Their stories are as deeply personal as they are political. As we follow them in their daily work lives, we get a feeling for their deep connections with patients and other practitioners and how those connections sustain them. We see how they incorporate feminist principles in thinking through ethical dilemmas associated with abortion care. We learn about what things were like when they first began their medical careers and the people who influenced them. And we follow their journeys from clinics and training centers in the Pacific Northwest to areas of the country where women’s rights are more threatened.
“Our Bodies Our Doctors” draws on anti-stigma research carried out by members of the Michigan-based team that produced two earlier short films on which this film builds. One of the key research findings portrayed in those films is how stigma is created through the process of assigning shame to abortion providers, and the ways abortion providers are impugned as behaving outside the bounds of normalcy. Our documentary projects, including this one, have the aim of countering this stigma by showing how abortion is part of a spectrum of vital reproductive health care services. We show how schools, families, churches—and even hospitals and doctors that refuse to perform abortions—depend on those physicians and clinics that do provide these services. Our aims for this project are to use the medium of film to:
The project began in 2016 with production of a 7-minute and 16-minute version of a short film titled “Being There.” The shorts were directed by Jan Haaken, professor emeritus at Portland State University, executive produced by Lisa Harris, Associate Professor, Department of OB/GYN, University of Michigan Ann Arbor, and funded through a grant from the Society of Family Planning. The short films, produced for training purposes, were guided by the anti-stigma research carried out by the Providers Share research team at U of Michigan Ann Arbor. Through the production of “Being There,” the team determined that there was a larger and important story to be told about this quiet rebellion in the medical field. A new production team was formed in Oregon to carry out Phase II of production with the aim of completing a feature-length film.
Jan Haaken is directing “Our Bodies Our Doctors” as an independent production through Specular Productions, LLC, with a film crew and production team in Oregon. Their aim is to raise finishing funds for post-production, including an outreach plan for wide public distribution and education in the healthcare field. Haaken is professor emeritus of psychology, a clinical psychologist, former registered nurse and a long-time reproductive rights activist.