The Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision has successfully overturned a woman’s federal right to an abortion; nearly 50 years later, Roe v. Wade is no longer the law of the land. To help you learn more about the history behind this court’s contentious ruling, TheWrap has gathered five essential documentaries to watch.
The abortion debate has long dominated political discourse on Capitol Hill, particularly in recent years. And many documentary filmmakers have used their medium over the years to reflect on what led to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and what historical and political developments have led to the continued debate over a woman’s right to choose. The documentaries below follow doctors, patients, plaintiffs and protesters through periods when politicians on both side of the aisle fought to either maintain or dismantle the Roe v. Wade verdict all these years later.
After the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, producer Daniel Arcana started developing a project about the Jane Collective, an organization his mother, Judith Arcana, was a part of in the 1960s and ‘70s. The film details how the women of the Chicago-based group worked and helped women obtain safe and affordable abortions. Prior to the Roe v. Wade case, the so-called “Janes” built the underground organization and assisted an estimated 11,000 women. Seven of the women were arrested in a police raid with charges of abortion and conspiracy to commit abortion in 1972, just before the historic Supreme Court decision.
“The Janes” is streaming on HBO Max.
In 2009, one of the very few remaining providers of third-trimester abortions in the country, Dr. George Tiller, was shot to death. While serving as an usher at his Wichita, Kansas, church, Dr. Tiller was killed by an anti-abortion extremist. “After Tiller” documents how four remaining third-trimester providers have continued carrying Tiller’s legacy. Although these doctors are followed by constant threats of violence, these providers compassionately assist women who have to make the decision to terminate advanced, and often wanted, pregnancies. “After Tiller” is an essential watch to understand the emotional and misunderstood elements of the late-term abortion debate.
“After Tiller” is streaming on Amazon Prime.
“AKA Jane Roe”
In the 2020 documentary “AKA Jane Roe,” the original anonymous plaintiff of Roe v. Wade, now known to be Norma McCorvey, speaks out about her 1995 decision to condemn abortion. At the center of two separate symbolic victories for pro-choice and pro-life advocates, McCorvey makes a “deathbed confession” that she was paid by anti-abortion groups like Operation Rescue to speak out against abortion later in life. After her 1995 denouncement of Roe v. Wade, “Jane Roe” was seen as going to the other side. But months before her passing, Nick Sweeney’s documentary examines how McCorvey overcame poverty, neglect and abuse — all while being positioned as the symbol in one of America’s most contentious modern debates.
“AKA Jane Roe” is streaming on Hulu.
“Abortion: Stories Women Tell”
“Abortion: Stories Women Tell” directed by Tracy Droz Tragos, documents what women at an Illinois abortion clinic were experiencing when Missouri legislators passed the extreme law mandating an “in-person informed consent process and a mandatory 72-hour waiting period between the time you sign your consent and your procedure.” As media typically displays and argues abortion is for careless young women, this documentary depicts how those in need of abortion range in age, race, motivation and marital status.
“Abortion: Stories Women Tell” is streaming on HBO Max.
Released in 2018, Just after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the Supreme Court, “Reversing Roe” examines how the abortion debate became more heated than ever before. Directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg, the film documents how even conservative presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush supported abortion rights, which changed by 2018 when Republican politicians continued to use anti-abortion as an organizing cause and voting incentive for citizens.
“Reversing Roe” is streaming on Netflix.