Religion is at the center of the film depicting the last abortion clinic along the southern border of Texas
Yolanda Chapa, founder of the McAllen Pregnancy Center, in “On the Divide”. (Photo courtesy of “On the Divide”)
Almost halfway through “On the Divide,” a documentary about the last abortion clinic left along the Texas border with Mexico, Rey Guerrero — a security guard in his 60s who guards the entrance to Whole Woman’s Health – kneels before an altar and prays. He asks God to protect the patients whom he protects from the anti-abortion demonstrators who, rosaries in hand, beg them to continue their pregnancies.
“Sometimes they cross the line,” Guerrero says in the film, referring to religious anti-abortion protesters. “They come and insult the girls and make it worse and they sink deeper into depression by the things they say.”
Guerrero is Catholic. He prays every day but he doesn’t go to church. The church, he says in the film, fired him since he started working at the abortion clinic. He could hear worshipers whispering, “Look, he’s killing babies.”
“They call me a murderer,” Guerrero says.
“On the Divide,” which premiered April 18 on PBS, follows the stories of people surrounding Whole Woman’s Health of McAllen, Texas, the only available abortion clinic in the Rio Grande Valley – a region of 1.4 million inhabitants, mainly Spanish speakers. The McAllen Catholic Pregnancy Center is right next to the abortion clinic.
The film explores how religion informs the response of Latinos along the US-Mexico border to issues surrounding abortion.
It features Mercedes Soto, once involved in gangs and a strong supporter of the pregnancy center, who prays the rosary outside the abortion clinic; Denisse Gonzalez, a young mother of four who volunteers at Whole Woman’s Health and helps guide women to the clinic; and Guerrero, who throughout the film finds himself defending his faith to protesters outside the clinic.
“On The Divide” had been screened in cities across the country just as news of Lizelle Herrera’s arrest was making national headlines. The 26-year-old Rio Grande Valley woman has been charged with murder for what sheriffs called a “self-induced abortion.” The charge was dropped and Herrera was released. Texas law exempts pregnant women from criminal charges of homicide for an abortion. South Texans for Reproductive Justice, a civil rights alliance featured in the documentary, was among those raising the alarm over his arrest.
Mercedes Soto is featured in “On the Divide.” (Photo courtesy of “On the Divide”)
For the film’s directors, Maya Cueva and Leah Galant, it was difficult, but not surprising, to hear about the circumstances surrounding the abortion. They started filming the documentary seven years ago.
“On the Divide” appeared after Cueva and Galant worked on a short film about a traveling abortion doctor in Texas while still at Ithaca College in New York. As they continued to spend time in the border region, they connected with another traveling doctor from Whole Woman’s Health who introduced them to clinic workers, residents and organizers in the Rio Grande Valley.
“As soon as we got there, we saw that (religion) was very present,” Cueva told Religion News Service.
Cueva, a Latino filmmaker, aims to show that Latinos are not monolithic, in part by capturing the role religion plays in their view of abortion. She hopes others will understand that you can be religious and “still fight for the right to choose.”
“Religion really plays a big part in this and we can’t just ignore it,” Cueva said.
Galant, who is Jewish, said they seek to move beyond the debate “one way or the other” and show that “we are all complicated and nuanced individuals.”
“We want to expand what people think when they think about who has a stake in reproductive justice and how that relates to religion,” Galant said. “By sharing these stories that don’t really fall under a polarizing binary point of view, you can’t help but expand your worldview on what it means to be part of a religion and/or to fight for freedom. reproduction.”
Denisse Gonzalez, a young mother of four who volunteers at Whole Woman’s Health of McAllen in Texas, in “On the Divide.” (Photo courtesy of “On the Divide”)
“Sometimes I feel like I can’t turn to the church because of what it is.”
Catholics for Choice, which opposes the church’s official stance against abortion, is a partner in the film’s impact campaign. Marlee Breakstone, coordinator of Catholics for Choice, said in a virtual chat with the filmmakers that Catholics know that they “are called to protect the rights to health and the conscience of all their neighbours”.
The film, Breakstone said, “shows how much a person’s faith is tied to every decision they make.”
It follows Soto, who calls herself a “prayer warrior”, as she goes from praying her rosary outside the abortion clinic to fighting her Catholic faith when she acquires contraceptives in a free clinic to avoid another pregnancy. Soto said her son was “saved from abortion” by a street counselor who convinced her to continue with the pregnancy.
“Sometimes I feel like I can’t turn to the church because of what it is,” she says. “The Catholic Church will always be there during the day. Once the light has gone out and the darkness has gone out, who will be there?”
Struggling financially, Gonzalez – the mother-of-four who supports abortion patients – said she was considering an abortion but didn’t have the courage to do it, nor could she. afford.
“I remember praying that God would give me a miscarriage, that I wouldn’t have to make this decision,” she says in the film. “I don’t know how patients do it, but I know (what) that desperation looks like.”
Rey Guerrero is a security guard who protects the entrance to Whole Woman’s Health of McAllen in Texas in “On the Divide”. (Photo courtesy of “On the Divide”)
At one point in the film, Gonzalez, who grew up Catholic, seeks to cleanse himself of a curanderaa healer.
“This kind of brujeria or curanderismo is really huge in our culture. We blend curanderismo with religion. It’s very much in line with Catholicism, as much as the Catholic Church likes to deny it,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez says she was dismissed as “the whore of Babylon” when she had her child at 19. She finds it difficult to understand the Christians who demonstrate in front of the abortion clinic. “Why are you going out of your way to try to break someone? ” she asks.
As for Guerrero, the security guard, he has since retired.
“I would have given my life for those women. I’m no one special. I just care,” Guerrero says near the end of the film. “I think I made a difference.”
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