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How ‘Badass’ Female HBO Execs Made this Controversial Abortion Film Possible

Amie, a woman featured in 'Abortion: The Stories We Tell,' sits waiting for an appointment at Hope Clinic.Amie, a woman featured in 'Abortion: The Stories We Tell,' sits waiting for an appointment at Hope Clinic.
Amie, a woman featured in 'Abortion: The Stories We Tell,' sits waiting for an appointment at Hope Clinic.Courtesy of HBO

Abortion has been and remains one of the most divisive political issues in America, with every voter and politician expected to have a well-defined position. This election cycle alone, politicians have made headlines with their views and votes: Hillary Clinton’s VP pick Tim Kaine’s stance on abortion has been called into question by progressive pundits, while Donald Trump caused an uproar after he said that women having illegal abortions should be “punished.”

In the midst of all of the political commentary, it’s easy to forget that abortion isn’t just a platform issue, but a reality for many American women. Released in theaters on Friday, Abortion: Stories Women Tell, attempts to bring women—both those who have had abortions and those who oppose them—into the foreground.

The documentary focuses on the situation facing Missouri women who seek abortions; with just one abortion clinic open in the state and a 72-hour waiting period for the procedure, women seeking abortions can be forced to drive to clinics across state lines. The focal point of the film is a woman named Amie, a Missouri waitress and mother of two who is shown driving back and forth to Hope Clinic in Illinois for her abortion. But it also includes the voices of pro-life women.

Fortune sat down with film director Tracy Droz Tragos to find out about the story behind the movie — how she chose her subjects, why she wanted to make the movie and how she got it made.

The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Fortune: Where did you get the inspiration for the film?

Droz Tragos: It started with a conversation with [HBO Documentary Films president] Sheila Nevins and [SVP] Sara Bernstein. I’ve always wanted to work with HBO Documentary Films, because I feel like they push boundaries and are always doing great work and I admire them tremendously. We had a conversation around what issues we care about, and we were talking about reproductive rights and access to abortion and women’s healthcare, and we felt that we could make a film that might be different if we really focused on women and didn’t treat women as criminals and didn’t hide their faces or disguise their voices—if we give them dignity and full faces and full stories and shifted away from political rhetoric, where it [the abortion narrative] often lives.

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HBO has several women executives involved. Did that matter?

I am grateful that there are badass executives around like Sheila Nevins and Sara Bernstein, so thankfully from a broadcast, commissioning perspective I had some pretty powerful women to collaborate and that’s key. I don’t think necessarily the film would have been made if there hadn’t been these amazing women in these positions of power. I’m grateful that women are there and, just as we need more women filmmakers and more stories by and about women, we also need women executives. They’re the ones who are holding the purse strings ultimately.

Why did you decide to include stories of “pro-lifers” as well as women who were seeking abortions?

The idea was to not have this film be seen as an advocacy piece or as a piece of filmmaking that could be dismissed because you’re only hearing from women whose views we perhaps shared. It was important to deeply listen to women I didn’t necessary agree with and hear their stories and include them in the film. Ultimately, it is about women, who have different perspectives…and the idea was really to hear from women, not just who would describe themselves as being pro-choice as all women.

How did Illinois’ Hope Clinic and Amie become the focus of the film?

Hope Clinic is in Granite City, Illinois, which is right over the Missouri state lines and when [Missouri’s] 72-hour waiting period became law, a lot of women from Missouri were going to Granite City to the Hope Clinic because the 72-hour restriction was just too great a burden to bear. [The film’s main subject] Amie had to drive two and a half hours to get there, and walk through the gauntlet of protesters. She took part in the film because she wanted to have a voice, she wanted people to know that she’s a real person…and she was making a choice that was the best choice for her. It brought her some amount of solace to feel that she would be heard, and there’s also the generous motivation of talking to other women so that they too would not feel so alone and know that someone else was in their shoes.

Was the goal of the film to affect political change?

[Abortion] is something that’s being talked about so much in a political sphere, the thought was, let’s hear from women and ultimately, I think that that has power—some might say political power—when you hear directly from people rather than speak in the abstract. The biggest [reaction from audiences] has been a feeling of being grateful that it’s not a political film and that we’re not hearing a lot of what we’ve already heard from politicians…there’s a political rhetoric that is expected and that kind of dominates, but instead we’re hearing directly from women of all walks of life. There’s an appreciation for shifting the conversation in some small measure.