The Abortion Diaries (2005)


The Abortion Diaries is a documentary featuring 12 women who speak candidly about their experiences with abortion. The women are doctors, subway workers, artists, activists, military personnel, teachers and students; they are Black, Latina, Jewish and White; they are mothers or child-free; they range in age from 19 to 54. Their stories weave together with the filmmaker’s diary entries to present a compelling, moving and at times surprisingly funny “dinner party” where the audience is invited to hear what women say behind closed doors about motherhood, medical technology, sex, spirituality, love, work and their own bodies.

I made this film as a grad student, funded almost entirely with a credit card with a $3000 limit. I didn’t really know how to make a film then; the whole thing is quite amateurish, but in a way that I still feel proud to have done. Once I made the film I knew I wanted to get it out there – that was the point! – but pre-internet-video, this involved hand-making DVDs and traveling around on self-organized tours to screen and sell them for $5 each. I was inspired by DIY filmmakers like Matt McCormick and Vanessa Renwick, who would organize those kinds of tours. I sold maybe 3000 DVDs, ultimately, and then gave another 500 or so to an organization called Backline (a reproductive choice hotline) to use for fundraising. I went to bars and churches, colleges and art spaces. Sometimes we’d project on a bedsheet I traveled with. I slept on couches and in dorm room beds. I made the film really short because I wanted lots of time for discussions after watching; a typical event would be 30mins film then 60mins discussion. I eventually visited 42 U.S. states with this film and can’t even estimate how many people I met and talked to.

This was my first documentary.  The production value is of course quite amateurish, and I sort of knew I didn’t know what I was doing, but I had worked on a few independent film sets and had seen that lots of “professional” directors (mostly men) seemed to have lots of confidence even when it was obvious they had no idea what they’re doing. So I thought, “hey, I can do that if they can.” And it turned out I could!

I should say there’s a statistic in the film (at 3:20) that was so obviously wrong it should never have been included. It was used often by a prominent pro-choice org at the time, but I should have checked it more closely rather than believing it. In fact, by the time my film came out, that org had stopped using it! Another amateur mistake. If there was a way I could delete it I would. Honestly, I am not sure any of the stats in the film should be trusted (and anyway they’re all very outdated by now). I would do all that differently now.

Things have changed a lot in abortion discourse since the early 2000s.  I have changed a lot, too.  But this film really did have a small impact then, and I think largely in a positive way.

Edited by Penny Lane and Anne Barliant
Camera by Joseph Victorine and Elizabeth Ellis
Sound Recording by Christopher Asta
Original music by Guitars & Hearts, Alpha Ursa & Jump Cannon
Funding from the Puffin Foundation & NYSCA



“Finding Out: Abortion in Popular Culture” Cindy Cooper, Words of Choice 03.09.08
“SYRF Celebrates Roe v. Wade” Katie Micik, The Maneater 01.24.06
“Speak Out” (cover story) Shawn Stone, Metroland 01.19.06
Review of The Abortion Diaries Annie Wagner, Seattle Stranger 01.19.06
DVD Review: The Abortion Diaries Marie Lyn Bernard, December 2005
“Telling Stories of a Personal Choice” Danielle Furfaro, Albany Times Union 10.17.05
“The A Word” Laura Barcella, 09.20.04
“Women Waiting to Exhale” Jennifer Baumgardner, AlterNet 06.01.05
News clip from Wilmington NC!
KBOO interview!
Houston Indymedia interview!


Audience Award
, New Orleans International Human Rights Film Festival
Choice USA “Spirit of Communication” Award
Best Documentary (Student), Carolina Film/Video Festival
Illinois Choice Action Team, Chicago IL (January 2010)
University of North Texas, Fort Worth TX (January 2010)
Williams College, Williamstown MA (January 2010)
Choice Ireland, Dublin (August 2009)
Red Tent Sisters, Toronto (July 2009)
Civic Media Center, Gainesville FL (May 2009)
Iowa City Public Library, Iowa City (February 2009)
University of Minnesota Law School, Minneapolis MN (November 2008)
Seomra Spraoi, Dublin (October 2008)
Red Tent Sisters, Toronto (June 2008)
Amherst Cinema, Amherst MA (April 2008)
University of West Florida, Pensacola FL (March 2008)
Tufts University, Medford MA (March 2008)
Taylor Books, Charleston WV (March 2008)
University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati OH (March 2008)
Vassar College, Poughkeepsie NY (February 2008)
University of California, Santa Barbara CA (January 2008)
University of North Dakota School of Law, Grand Forks ND (January 2008)
University of Maine, Orono ME (January 2008)
Rutgers University, New Brunswick NJ (November 2007)
Clark University, Worcester MA (November 2007)
Rowan University, Glassboro NJ (October 2007)
Modern Formations, Pittsburgh PA (July 2007)
First Unitarian Church of Rochester, Rochester NY (May 2007)
Kirkwood Community College Room, Iowa City IA (April 2007)
Worcester State College, Worcester MA (March 2007)
Durham Co-op Grocery, Durham NC (January 2007)
UNC-Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill NC (January 2007)
Jengo’s Playhouse, Wilmington NC (January 2007)
Circular Congregational Church, Charleston SC (January 2007)
University of Georgia, Athens GA January 2007)
UAB, Birmingham AL (January 2007)
Fairhope Unitarian Fellowship, Fairhope AL (January 2007)
Manhattan Public Library, Manhattan KS (January 2007)
The Center for Reproductive Rights, New York City January 2007)
Book Woman, Austin TX (January 2007)
First Congregational Church, Memphis TN (January 2007)
Emory University, Atlanta GA (January 2007)
College of William & Mary, Williamsburg VA (January 2007)
Rice Cinema, Houston TX (January 2007)
Coffman Theater, Minneapolis MN (January 2007)
Feminist Health Center of Portsmouth, Portsmouth NH (January 2007)
Fayetteville Town Center, Fayetteville AR (January 2007)
Skidmore College, Saratoga NY (January 2007)
Allegheny Reproductive Health Center, Pittsburgh PA (January 2007)
Tulane University, New Orleans LA (January 2007)
Unitarian Church, Anaheim CA (January 2007)
Clark University, Worcester MA (November 2006)
Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester MA (November 2006)
Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge MA (November 2006)