In the documentary Plan Cwe see something that shouldn’t feel so extraordinary, but somehow it is: a woman celebrating her abortion with a huge, unabashed grin on her face.
The feature, which premiered Monday at Sundance, certainly covers a lot of dark themes; While it mainly focuses on spreading the abortion pill, Plan C also touches the overturning of Roe v. calf and protests from both sides of the ideological divide across the country. But for a hopeful moment, we see one of the film’s characters, Jasmine, happy, excited and jubilant about her abortion.
It’s the kind of depiction of abortion that we don’t often see in movies. Characters in fictional films who carry babies usually seem angry at the idea of abortion, distraught at the procedure, or those protesting outside women’s clinics – as in Juno or Waitress, for example. Even when someone performs an on-screen abortion, they’ve often gone to great lengths to get there — the “abortion road trip” has even become a full-fledged film genre.
but Plan C offers something new: relief. It’s a sense of hope director Tracy Droz Tragos wanted to instill when she began filming her documentary about abortion pills four years ago, before Texas made it illegal to assist with an abortion at six weeks and before the pregnancy tips over from Roe v. calf last year. Despite all this devastating news, the organizers have taken the spotlight Plan C proving that there can still be optimism at the heart of such a deeply divisive issue.
“At the end of the day, abortion can be a very life- and family-friendly decision,” Tragos tells The Daily Beast via Zoom from Sundance in Park City, Utah. “These are things I don’t think we hear enough about. In the film, Jasmine has three children who she loves so much, but cannot afford to have more children. Speaking her truth is her choice for family, for life. There is so much hypocrisy and bullshit in the ‘anti’ position.”
Coincidentally, Sundance has another documentary that accompanies it Plan C. justice follows damning sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court Justice who happened to be the inspiration behind it Plan C. (Even more Allegations of sexual misconduct have been leveled against Kavanaugh in recent days justicepremiered at the festival.)
“I remember in those hearing rooms people would stand up in protest in the audience and yell at that wilderness. And yet this guy would be appointed no matter what. I’m so glad this movie exists,” says Tragos justice, although she distinguishes the two documents because “our film gives hope. What we are actually saying is that you can do something.”
Both films premiere in Utah, a red state with new restrictions; Abortions are banned there after 18 weeks of pregnancy, but are still legal outside of the state. Join the team at Plan C, co-founded and led by Francine Coeytaux and Elisa Wells, who help distribute abortion pills through the mail. As the main themes of Plan C, the team behind the public health campaign used Sundance as an opportunity to spread the word about the abortion pill during the festival. Thanks to telemedicine, one of the Sundance doctors featured in the film was even able to prescribe five sets of abortion pills.
“People in the film just take that and run with it. We have mobile billboards. They make ice sculptures out of abortion pills. They have pins and stickers,” says Tragos. “That’s all we want. It will be interesting to see the impact of that.”
Security measures have been enforced for the film as further screenings are scheduled for this week; Meredith Perry who edited Plan CShe must have been grateful to the security forces when they checked her bag thoroughly at the entrance to a screening, she says. Still, Perry and Tragos aren’t too afraid of backlash — or, as they put it, “bullyers” who might try to disparage their film.
“We want to step into the light,” says Perry. “No one should be ashamed of having an abortion, of helping someone else have an abortion, any of that. Fear pushes people down. We want the opposite of that. We want to strengthen.”
“No one should be ashamed of having an abortion, of helping someone else have an abortion, any of that. Fear pushes people down. We want the opposite of that. We want to strengthen.”
While editing the film, Perry said she noticed a similar trend in the way women talked about their abortions: they kept trying to explain it why They got them and often made up an excuse, like the Plan B pill that failed them. But Perry edited out most of it to stay away from the “fear” aspect and instead bolster her motives.
“I was starting to think, ‘We don’t need to have this explained to us. I don’t think we need to include people’s explanations of why because then you start to think, well, someone else shouldn’t be doing it, right? says Perry. “But no, that’s a personal choice and it’s right if you want it. Nobody should judge. It’s part of not feeling ashamed, not feeling like I have to say, ‘This happened, I feel really bad about it.’”
Not only is the whole concept of abortion stigmatized, but the actual procedure is quite tricky. Clinics can fill up, especially since several states have now completely restricted abortion Roe v. calftips, and it can get expensive, even with insurance. However, Plan C helps people who don’t want to conceive find abortion pills that allow them to have an abortion in their own home.
But many people may still not know the abortion pill exists, which is why the team behind it hopes their film can educate people about how it works and where to get it. The “pill” is actually two pills – mifepristone and misoprostol (affectionately called “Miffy” and “Miso” in the document), which terminate pregnancy when taken in combination. The FDA has approved both drugs and recently allowed pharmacies to sell the pills to people with a prescription, but there are constant threats to the public’s ability to purchase the drug.
“The FDA had all of these [restrictions]- and it has eased some of them – around the dispensing of this drug. They treated it like an opioid, even though it was safer than Tylenol,” says Tragos. “It was all political. People don’t know about it because it was difficult to access. But I’m increasingly hoping that people will find out about it, and I hope that this film will be a part of how people will find out about it.”
Plan C doesn’t go to great lengths to explain the ongoing updates to legislation surrounding the abortion pill — nor goes into the supply chain, the history of the pill, or even how to use the pill — but that’s partly because of the tipping of Roe v. calf. Tragos explains that if abortion were still legal in all 50 states, this would have been a very different film; there would have been more time to follow, for example, Coeytaux and Wells. But as soon as the Supreme Court’s leaked draft advisory opinion last May suggested the overthrow Roe v. calf imminent, Tragos felt the urgency to spread information about the pill as soon as possible.
“When the leak happened, I went to Oklahoma and overheard people calling the clinic and talking about the impact of Oklahoma’s abortion ban. People couldn’t come to this clinic and [said], not knowing that they had another option, that they were going to kill themselves,” she recalls. “When I was in that clinic and I experienced what is one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen, I was like, ‘I have to finish this movie.'”
Releasing a film on Sundance, where it has a chance to be acquired by a slew of hungry distributors, is the perfect way to spread the word about the abortion pill. (Trago’s last document on abortion, Abortion: Stories Women Tell, landed on HBO after a Tribeca premiere.) It’s a more enduring way of getting information out there than, say, on social media, where abortion activists are often banned or censored. Ironically, Tragos himself has just been removed from twitter.
“Honestly, I didn’t spend enough time on it [on Twitter] to understand if I was hacked or just removed,” says Tragos. “I understand the larger implications of what has happened to the organization. I’m not sure if it happened to me, but the organization has a lot of active censorship – they’re being removed from Instagram and various social media sites, which is a powerful tool for spreading this information.”
Tragos continues more hopefully: “We hope that this film is part of the answer to that. We cannot be censored. We cannot be silenced.”
But despite all the bans, stigmata, costs and other hurdles, hope prevails. Plan C ends on a positive note, insisting that even if 100 abortion activists are jailed, thousands more are waiting to help on the fringes.
“I have a quote that didn’t make it into the film,” Perry recalls, quoting activist Loretta J. Ross. “She says, ‘You can’t undo the entire 21st century.’ History is on our side, you know?”