Klein Center, WGS, Latinx ERG present abortion clinic documentary ‘On The Divide’


Photo courtesy of Chiaoning Su

Mercado Jones introducing “On The Divide.”

The Oakland Center Habitat was rife with thoughtful discussion on Tuesday, Oct. 4 as The Klein Center, Oakland University Women and Gender Studies (WGS) and the OU Latinx Employee Resource Group (ERG) presented a screening of Maya Cueva and Leah Galant’s documentary, “On The Divide.”

The film chronicles the stories of three Latinx individuals, detached on a number of views but linked by a mutual connection to Whole Woman’s Health — the last abortion clinic to have been open on the U.S./Mexico border. Located in McAllen, Texas, the since-closed clinic was, at the time of filming, the only option for people in the area to get an abortion.

The main subjects of the film are Mercedes — a volunteer at a local anti-abortion center and a prominent figure in her church’s anti-abortion movement who was talked out of getting an abortion years prior by a protestor — Denisse — a volunteer escort at Whole Woman’s Health, motivated to continue fighting for access to safe abortions by stories of lives lost due to unsafe ones — and Rey — a security guard for Whole Woman’s Health who was kicked out of his church and physically attacked by a stranger in retaliation for his employment with the clinic.

The range of perspectives depicted within the film were among its most intriguing factors for Chiaoning Su, associate professor and director of The Klein Center.

“It’s interesting, because when we think about abortion — at least for myself — I think [of it] more as a political trope for mobilization. I didn’t really think about the personal aspect and how this could be someone’s life journey,” Su said. “Rather than seeing this as a purely political issue, [viewers can] dive deeper into the human aspect of the issue, the personal journey, [and] no matter what your position is, have more empathy for people on the other side.”

The film follows the three subjects’ journeys over the course of several years. Viewers are privy to an anti-abortion center’s relocation to an address just three doors down from Whole Woman’s Health, a powerful Handmaid’s Tale-inspired protest of anti-abortion Texas Senator Ted Cruz led by Denisse and fellow clinic volunteers and glimpses at some of the everyday tensions that surround abortion clinics.

Each character sustained a lot of growth throughout the film’s duration, both as a result and in spite of their ties to either side of the abortion debate. Regardless of personal stance, viewers can identify a perspective or experience to resonate with — and might be surprised just how moved they are by all three stories.

Associate Professor Rebecca Mercado Jones currently serves as a faculty fellow for The Klein Center, a WGS affiliate faculty member and co-president for ERG. She proposed the idea to screen this film, inspired by her position on the board of Planned Parenthood of Michigan and aiming to focus an event on the history of matters which concern the organization, such as abortion access. She felt this documentary perfectly fit the bill.

“It’s important whenever we have these conversations […] to think about — it’s not just you and me,” she said, “it’s about thinking about vulnerable populations in society who are harmed in this larger conversation about reproductive justice.”

The screening was succeeded by a virtual conversation with co-directors Cueva and Galant. The duo answered audience questions, discussing the origins of their collaborative efforts within a college classroom, advice for how to get into documentary filmmaking and the heart of their intent with making this film.

“Once we heard about this clinic, we got in contact with the clinic workers, because we wanted to talk to them and hear their insight,” Cueva said. “One thing we thought to do was to really ask them what stories they [felt were] being left out or misunderstood in the movement or about the work they do — and they told us that no one had ever asked them that before.”

The event also featured tabling from Grizzlies for Choice, providing attendees with free merchandise and information regarding Michigan’s Proposal 3.

The Klein Center’s next event will occur virtually next month, welcoming faculty fellow Graham Cassano to discuss his collaboration with a Pontiac-based organization to preserve the previously abandoned Webster School. For more information, contact [email protected].