Before films like Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020) and Unpregnant (2020), the 2017 Sundance Short Film Jury Award for U.S. Fiction went to Lucia, Before and After. This thirteen-minute film shows how a young white woman, Lucia, spends the mandated (medically unnecessary) 24-hour waiting period between her ultrasound and abortion in Texas.
Lucia leaves from her job at an afterschool program to drive hours across a west Texas desert to a clinic. When she arrives, the clinician informs a surprised Lucia that Texas law mandates she wait until the next day to have her procedure. Without extra money to spend, Lucia tries unsuccessfully to find a place to stay for the night, runs out of a bar without paying for her meal, and sleeps in her car. After her abortion, Lucia is shown driving home to her job, with the film ending as she plays a hand-clapping game with one of the teens in the program.
Lucia shows a glimpse of geographic inequity and some of the realistic challenges a pregnant person might navigate to access abortion in Texas. After over half of clinics providing abortions in the state closed in 2013 due to HB2, more Texans had to travel to have abortions (Fernandez, 2013). Then, on September 1, 2021, SB8 went into effect in Texas. SB8 is a unique “heartbeat bill” that effectively bans abortions after six weeks by enabling (and potentially paying) private citizens to sue anyone who helps someone access abortion after six weeks gestation. A film similar to Lucia in the world of SB8 would likely include more obstacles, then, such as increased fear, legal uncertainty, and out-of-state travel.
Lucia humanizes reproductive healthcare (in)accessibility. Yet, can representations of inequitable abortion access successfully contest with traditional "pro-life" rhetoric? As Sara Hayden (2009) argues, the “significance of fetal imagery for the articulation of <life> cannot be overstated” (p. 114). In a world of fetal imagery and rage on behalf of “murdered children,” where do film festival darlings like Lucia fit in? Though I am unsure of Lucia’s (or Never Rarely Sometimes Always’s or Unpregnant’s) potential impact in anti-abortion circles, perhaps these representations can primarily serve to destigmatize abortion care and mobilize “pro-choice” audiences who come to better understand issues of inequity and access.
Note: I include quotation marks for "pro-life" and "pro-choice" to recognize these common labels are not typically deemed useful in reproductive justice writing.
Fernandez, M. (2013, July 18). Abortion restrictions become law in Texas, but opponents will press fight. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/19/us/perry-signs-texas-abortion-restrictions-into-law.html?mcubz=1
Hayden, S. (2009). Revitalizing the debate between <life> and <choice>: The 2004 march for women’s lives. Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 6(2), 111 – 131. https://doi.org/10.1080/14791420902833189
Lucia, Before and After. 2016. Film. Directed by Anu Valia. USA: Refinery29 Shatterbox.