Last year, I had my fallopian tubes removed. I’ve known that I don’t want kids for almost a decade now, and while I had tried to have a sterilization surgery, knowing that the website Plan C existed to help connect me to abortion medication made it easier to live with the fact that doctor after doctor denied me the procedure. But then Roe v. Wade got overturned, and the situation became dire. That’s my reality, and it’s the reality that I watched the documentary film Plan C surrounded by. Screening at SXSW 2023 is no small statement and a necessary one even if Plan C stumbles in terms of intersectionality.
Plan C, directed by Tracy Droz Tragos, chronicles the story of the titular organization and the grassroots network that continues to fight to expand access to abortion pills across the United States. Including interviews with Co-Founders of Plan C, Francine Coeytaux and Elisa Wells, Clinic Manager and Author of Handbook for a Post-Roe America, Robin Marty, Medical Director of Just The Pill, Dr. Amaon. and Clinic Director of Just The Pill, Frances Morales.
At the start of the film, Plan C has a title card that says it has obscured the faces and names of abortion medication providers in order to protect them from violence and legal concerns. The title card sets the stage for the stakes of providing safe medical abortions to people no matter where they are in the United States. If there is any question about the stakes involved, Plan C highlights it. It shares that women have a hard time getting sterilized because of doctors refusing to grant them procedures. It shares that providers live in fear of being killed or having their kids and families harmed as well. What the film does well is set the stakes while also highlighting how absurd the threat of violence is for providing a pill that is safer than Tylonel.
Additionally, while the title of the film is easily associated with where it starts, with the founders of the Plan C website, it expands to encompass a spectrum of providers who are getting inventive and dedicated to bringing medical services to those who need them. Whether it’s a traveling van in Minnesota or a woman in her kitchen filling orders, the film explores it. That said, this exploration lacks an element of intersectionality that I think is necessary for this conversation especially highlighting states like Texas with time dedicated to Greg Aboott’s bill, there needed to be a showcase on exactly who is affected by the laws in Texas.
Loretta J. Ross’s inclusion in Plan C is necessary, particularly in terms of the founding of reproductive justice. Without her, the documentary feels like a white woman’s story, despite the fact that Black and Latina women are those who are more harshly affected in states like Texas and the South while also having the highest maternal mortality rates. Outside of her segment though, the Black and Latina women in the film feel more like dressing for the conversation than actually being highlighted. Outside of the maybe 10 minutes of the film, I feel disconnected from the film as a Mexican-American woman.
We see Black women taking pills, but we don’t hear their stories. We hear Black women on the phone, but only briefly. And, we don’t see Latinas who, as recently as 2014, were being forcibly sterilized in Texas with no choice to have or not have children speak about it. In fact, outside covering the case of Lizelle Herrera as an example of legal ramifications, we don’t see the many Latinas gravely affected by the Texas law centered in this documentary.
Even in Carrie Baker’s explanation of the case, she feels the need to say “down on the border” when speaking about the case that others Lizelle in a way that only a white woman speaking about abortion can. Baker also flattens the case instead of recognizing that there was a slew of District Attorneys who vowed to not prosecute any woman in a similar situation as Herrera, which was a push against the State, and an act of Texans fighting for their own. It also ignores the reality that one of the ways Texas women deal with getting abortion pills is to head to Mexico, where they can buy them over the counter. This isn’t to discount the story being told, but I can’t help but feel like I don’t belong at the tables where the conversation about access to abortion pills is being held as a Tejana.
Birthing is an issue that while it crosses all birthing bodies, Black women and Latinas are affected more harshly and have far fewer resources than white women. While the minutes following Ross’s interview explain that Black women are over 100% more in danger of dying from pregnancy than an abortion, race is quickly forgotten once that one package is over. But I can’t forget it.
Additionally, Plan C puts in a lot of work to highlight that mothers get abortions too, contrary to what Republicans say. While this is a fact, and an important one, it feels as if the documentary is framing something that you’re supposed to see as radical through the lens of respectability. They do it by centering these stories over women who just don’t want children the same way they do it by having so many more white women being interviewed than Black and brown women. By spending the last half of the film in Texas and dedicated to showcasing civil disobedience, the whiteness of that section and the stories told leaves many behind.
This dissonance hits me extra hard seeing marches held in my city without seeing the women of color who spoke and organized those marches. This is magnified by the film bringing up those critiquing the whiteness of Plan C and disregarding it as just mean tweets when, in reality, it is necessary to reckon with if you want to help all of those who need abortions and not just some. Instead of reckoning with those not feeling represented in Texas by the white women at the center of Plan C, the documentary pushes them away and acts as if it doesn’t matter. While Ross comments that folks shouldn’t “punch sideways,” this ignores the ways in which other non-white women or non-cis women are punching back, not just reacting to nothing. But hey, that’s following the history of feminism and something I’m sure my review will be thrown into.
I don’t dislike Plan C, but it feels like so many white feminist documentaries that center feminity over any other element of identity in a way that loses the most vulnerable. That said, Plan C is a documentary that pulls the curtain back on what many who seek abortions already know and does it to normalize how simple a medication abortion is, and how safe it is. Medical abortions are safe. They are necessary. They are medical care. And, if there is one takeaway from this documentary, it’s that this simple act shouldn’t come with the trauma, fear of violence, or stigma that it does. Even with my issues, I acknowledge that I am not Plan C’s target audience. I’m not the heart nor mind it is trying to win but, at the same time, the optimism it offers while also sharing the grim reality is moving nonetheless.
Plan C was screened as a part of the SXSW 2023 Film and Television Festival.
- Rating - 6.5/106.5/10
I don’t dislike Plan C, but it feels like so many white feminist documentaries that center feminity over any other element of identity in a way that loses the most vulnerable. That said, Plan C is a documentary that pulls the curtain back on what many who seek abortions already know and does it to normalize how simple a medication abortion is, and how safe it is.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.