Once again, Mississippi Public Broadcasting—which receives public dollars—has initiated a form of censorship to keep certain controversial content away from a Mississippi audience. Anna Wolfe reports this issue (see page 12) that a PBS "Point of View" series documentary called "After Tiller" was aired around the country Sept. 1, but MPB Executive Director Ronnie Agnew blocked it in our state. The documentary displayed the work and lives of the only four doctors openly performing abortions after the third trimester in the United States.
Named after abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, who was killed by an anti-abortion activist while in church in 2009, the film is undeniably contentious—especially in a state that continually works to limit the accessibility of abortion. Agnew attributes his decision to pull the programming to the controversial nature of the film.
This censorship is emblematic of a society afraid of discussion of difficult issues. "After Tiller," which presents how complicated late-term abortion is, could have created thought and dialogue here on both sides of the debate on a topic that even many pro-abortion rights advocates don't agree on.
The point shouldn't be whether we agree or disagree with the content. The laws in Mississippi already prohibit abortions after the third trimester, and there isn't a serious push to change that; we're grappling with having any access to abortion whatsoever in the state.
We're not convinced that "After Tiller" would change the minds of anyone on the issue of abortion. The documentary is not "left-wing propaganda" as some PBS programming has been called. It is a film that embraces human stories and evokes empathy on the part of the viewer. Women here still face situations like the ones presented in "After Tiller." With stories seldom told, the doctors invite the viewer into very emotional and personal experiences surrounding pregnancy and reproductive choices.
Mississippians deserve access to information, just as residents of other states do. We need to be informed, and we don't need paternalistic censorship of content that can help us understand difficult issues. Those in power in Mississippi—overwhelmingly men—already control most discussion of reproductive health on their terms, wasting time and money in the Legislature trying to pass restrictions on legal abortion and install loopholes to effectively ban the constitutional procedure in the state.
Agnew justified the cancellation by saying the film is available online. But that is a cop-out for public stations such as MPB. To block discussion about a controversial but legal procedure in our country is irresponsible and shows a certain contempt for MPB's audience, our intelligence and our ability to handle complex content.
Mississippians—and all adults—deserve the opportunity to have difficult debates and hear complicated, humanized stories without public censorship. And we sure don't need a daddy telling us what we can't see. MPB needs to stop treating Mississippians like children.