Documentarian Tracy Droz Tragos’s “Plan C” declares that there is no freedom when healthcare is criminalized. [SXSW]

One of the founding principles in the United States is the separation of Church and State. This concept is intended to ensure that the laws of the land are written without any one specific faith guiding how the country functions. Despite having no official national language or religion, there’s a specific sect that operates within the U.S., especially now in our government, that believes English is what Americans should speak and that the scriptures of Christianity should be the faith. This is a problem for a multitude of reasons, least of which is the breach against the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which includes the statement that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion… “. It goes on to discuss free speech, free press, right to assemble, and the right to petition, but when it comes to director Tracy Droz Tragos’s (Abortion: Stories Women Tell) new documentary, Plan C, having its Texas Premiere at SXSW 2023, the focus is entirely on the first part. Why? Because the right to healthcare is increasingly becoming a dangerous proposition for individuals who can get pregnant as Evangelical and Christian values overtake scientific reason, creating a need for caregivers to develop pathways to provide services within, around, and against the law.

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Activist Francine Coeytaux in PLAN C. Photo courtesy of Falco Ink.

Seeing as Plan C covers several decades’ worth of information within its 93ish-minute runtime, there’re may be a general sense that Tragos’s documentary won’t be providing any new insight for those who are already aware of the battle for women’s healthcare and reproductive rights for all. There’s a certain amount of support in that view as Tragos uses known-in-the-movement activist Francine Coeytaux as the introductory point to all the other areas of exploration. To those who recognize her, Coeytaux is well-known as someone who was on the frontlines for the battle to make the Plan B pill available over the counter, a face with an established presence and audience. In planning terms, she’s a known-known, something we know we know. She’s a firebrand, a leader, passionate about healthcare access, and she’s been around long enough not to be worried about the consequences to herself. But that’s not *this* story. She’s just the light that shines from the lantern as Tragos introduces us to several individuals in the fight to remove the stigma of abortion from public consciousness, to make it affordable, and to ensure that there’s no class system of who is given access. This is what’s known as a known-unknown, the things we’re aware we don’t know, and it’s from this point that Tragos’s Plan C takes off in a somewhat chilling way. This is a war fought by countless soldiers and Tragos shoots the film, to increasing effectiveness, as though Plan C is a political thriller, introducing individuals, time periods, and various facts with an ever increasing urgency.

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A still from documentary PLAN C. Photo courtesy of Falco Ink.

Since the repeal of Roe v. Wade on June 24th, 2022, there’ve been several storytellers using their medium to convey the complexity of emotions that have arisen. There’s 2022’s anthology film Give Me An A which utilized various genres (comedy, drama, horror, satire) to express the different ways making abortion illegal impacts individuals of all classes, and there’s director Paula Eiselt’s short film Under G-d (2023) which looked at the repeal from the perspective of individuals of varying faiths, though specifically Judaic law. In the case of Plan C, Tragos guides the audience through the complex history of contraception and abortive medicine, the decades-long battle against Evangelical and Christian influences to make this care affordable and accessible, and the varying ways in which advocates have been pushing forward through each obstacle. To do this without putting people at risk, the interviewees are a mixture of public and private figures, meaning that the audience either knows who they are via name and video/audio capturing or the people are obscured in some way (incomplete name, hidden details of their person, or fully transformed face/voice) as a measure of identification protection. Pro-life advocates have a tendency to get fire-bomby, so a certain measure of protection makes sense. This, of course, only enhances the sense that what Tragos is presenting is heightened in danger and intensity. Aiding this feeling is a score from Nathan Halpern (Swallow/Emily the Criminal) that is incredibly tense, evoking a sense that not only is time of the essence, but threats lurk around every corner. Why would one feel that way? New laws being passed since the repeal of Roe, specifically in Texas, make it so that private citizens are being rewarded for reporting anyone who they think participated in obtaining or actually having an abortion. This isn’t just the government creating laws to restrict medical care, it’s incentivizing observation and reporting of fellow citizens, the kind of big government/federal overreach that the same right-leaning party proclaims the left-leaning party seeks to do, while being the actual individuals who do it. For Texans, not only is it illegal to seek treatment, but if you assist in any way in helping someone get treated, you, too, could face criminal charges. This information, in concert with the various facts provided by the interviewees, Halpern’s music, and the occasional visual representation of dates rolling by, Plan C generates an aura of concentrated urgency that is, at times, difficult to process and absorb.

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A still from documentary PLAN C. Photo courtesy of Falco Ink.

In order to help with perspectives, Tragos isn’t limited to medical professionals as interviewees, whether they be doctors or operators of the site Audiences also learn from people who have sought or were afraid to seek treatment for their pregnancy. This provides a shift in the street-level view that helps to illustrate that this isn’t just a matter of medical professionals trying to subvert the law, but a support to the claim that abortions occurred before Roe and will continue to now. The difference being that what occurs now, as then, will be far more dangerous when the law prohibits medical care. So when we listen to a mother of three (and partner to a member of the Armed Services) discuss how she struggled to get her doctors to listen to her when she tried to get her tubes tied in her 20s because they felt she was too young, or how a pregnant woman was in horrific pain for nearly five hours and feared going to the emergency room out of concern that she might be accused of trying to abort the child purposefully, a picture starts to form regarding how medicine has viewed women and how difficult it is for them to receive the care they deserve. Not to get too off track, but there are still those in the medical profession who will ask woman if their husbands/partners approve of conception-related treatments before undergoing procedures whereas men are not held to such scrutiny. When added to the information from activist/author Loretta J. Ross regarding the first abortion clinics being set up in Black and Brown communities with support from right-leaning politicians, a picture forms wherein healthcare for women isn’t based on their needs but, rather, the needs of those who would gain from controlling women or other populations. Chilling, indeed. (For more on this issue, please watch Paula Eiselt’s and Tonya Lewis Lee’s Aftershock, streaming on Hulu as of this writing.)

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PLAN C director Tracy Droz Tragos. Photo courtesy of Falco Ink.

Even if I didn’t know individuals who had considered abortions, sought them, or miscarried, having been raised in the Jewish community, my belief is that life comes at first breath and that the pregnant person’s life is more important than the unborn. My community also believes in taking care of children post-birth, something which the pro-life community often disregards quickly, as though the child doesn’t require food, clothes, shelter, support, and other forms of care once born. This is all to say that the right to contraception, abortive medicine, and basic healthcare is a right that all individuals should possess equally under the law. When we criminalize healthcare through the lens of faith, this not only breaches the First Amendment, it breaches the social contract of trust wherein neighbors can’t confide in neighbors, families can’t talk to families, and partners can’t talk to partners. This is scary in cases where there isn’t abuse or some form of control being enacted by one party onto another and it only gets worse when there is, as in the Texas case where an ex-husband is suing three people for helping their ex-wife get an abortion. Criminalizing healthcare isn’t about saving lives, but about control, fear, and intimidation. Plan C lays out that this way of thinking can’t possibly last as long as there are people willing to provide safe and affordable care to those in need. Freedom isn’t free when healthcare is criminalized.

Screened during SXSW 2023.

For more information, head to the official SXSW Plan C webpage.

Final Score: 4 out of 5.

Categories: In Theaters, Reviews

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