Plan C, 2023.
Directed by Tracy Droz Tragos.
A secret grassroots organisation persistently fights to expand access to abortion pills across the USA keeping hope alive during a global pandemic and the fall of Roe v. Wade.
Almost a full decade after her debut documentary Rich Hill won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, Tracy Droz Tragos returned to the festival earlier this year with another endlessly empathetic and altogether more urgent slice of journalistic filmmaking.
Plan C offers a deep-dive profile on a small group of activists and doctors helping distribute abortion to those who need it most in the United States, while navigating the nation’s increasingly thorny restrictions. The central figure is public health specialist Francine Coeytaux, who establishes the titular organisation, committed to expanding abortion access throughout the nation with the use of mobile clinics – unmarked vans which can dispense pills to those unable to freely receive them in their own state.
“It’s like we’re running a drug cartel to help people,” one of the subjects says early on. The service operates illegally in most states, and only those who distribute the pills can be arrested, ensuring the activists are placing themselves in a selfless, singularly actionable position. As such many of the people featured – whether activists or women seeking abortions – have their faces or voices obscured, for fear of not only legal reprisals but possible harm to themselves and their families from “pro-life” activists.
Tragos’ film simply yet effectively outlines the aggressive bias against abortion availability in the U.S. – the economic, social, and fear-based barriers which typically harm minorities, the poor, and the isolated the most. One subject aptly notes that there isn’t even a cynical financial goal behind the Republicans’ industrious quest to stem abortion access – which one could at least understand from a dollars perspective – but it comes down to something far more insidious; the control of womens’ bodies.
Tragos concisely traces the history of abortion in the U.S., before moving forward to consider two incredibly timely complications; the pandemic and overturning of historic abortion legislation Roe v. Wade. Due to hospitals becoming overrun during the peak of COVID, abortions were restricted alongside other “non-emergency” procedures, prompting some medical providers to begin mailing abortion pills out to those affected.
Many states recognised this need and gave the temporary go-ahead to mail pills, though this eventually reverted as the pandemic eased, and in June 2022, the tectonic moment occurred when the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade, making abortion illegal in many states.
This put Coeytaux and those like her in an incredibly tricky bind, driven to help those who couldn’t have or afford a legal and safe abortion in their own state, while bristling against the dubious-at-best legality of their actions. Through interviews with the activists, Tragos paints a hellish picture of women’s health in America, whereby a culture of dishonesty is created between doctor and patient in affected states, given the possibility of doctors reporting patients to the authorities who they believe have had an illegal abortion.
The subjects also speak of their fear for the legislation’s further dystopian potential, especially if the Republicans get back into office and push for a wider blanket ban on abortion nationwide.
Tragos cannily splits her film’s runtime between covering the facts of abortion access today and the difficulty of being an activist in such a legally precipitous area. It’s little surprise that the activists themselves have wildly varying limitations on how far they’re willing to go; some won’t risk their medical licenses and families, while others will put everything on the line and even express frustration that the rest won’t.
At once a depressing portrait of modern America and a testament to the courage of abortion activists, Plan C is a vital, must-see documentary.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.