Civia Tamarkin’s heart-wrenching Birthright: A War Story is as infuriating as it is eye-opening.
“If you need an abortion…you’d better get one.” That was the opening bit from the contemporaneous comedian slash philosopher Louis C.K.’s newest comedy special, 2017. As a father of two growing girls, it’s an obviously important topic for C.K. After all, his daughters would bare the brunt of any decisions regarding a women’s right to access for an abortion. But at the same time, the provocateur explored the other side of the argument joking, “people hate abortion protesters–‘they’re so shrill and awful’–[well] they think babies are being murdered!” It’s that willingness to look at the other side that makes C.K. heralded as being our generation’s socially conscious voice. And the same sort of social consciousness that makes director Civia Tamarkin’s Birthright: A War Story all the more powerful in it’s message.
Armed with a journalistic integrity and a hunger to showcase the public health crisis that is striking at the fundamental rights of women, Tamarkin leaves no stone unturned to showcase the harrowing problem that is hitting women’s rights. Ensuring that both sides of the fence are given the time to present their perspectives, Tamarkin has fortified her film’s substantive and important argument. From women’s rights lawyers, advocates, and professors to pro-choice executives, Republican policymakers, and anti-abortion leaders, the documentarian purist interviews every side of the controversial topic, ensuring that all sides have their say. It’s a powerfully methodic style, one that perhaps could have used a bit more stylization and graphical inserts that unpack the doozy of facts, statistics and medical jargon. But that does not take away from Tamarkin’s skillful investigation of this deeply important issue, one that becomes increasingly more complicated the further you delve into it.
While most people simply see abortion as the centerpiece of this contentious topic, it is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what other rights become subject to harm. From the amoral entrapment by medical communities to the lack of medical oversight in miscarriages, the recent onslaught of pro-life legislation has caused a myriad of public health crises. The situation is so bad that America now has the worst maternal mortality rate in the developed world–a shocking fact that is only more upsetting when you discover that the rate is only increasing. And the fact that conservatives–who frequently argue for little government oversight in day-to-day life–are the ones that are pushing so arduously for government intervention in a woman’s choices regarding her own body is mind-boggling. It’s a hypocrisy that is as infuriating as it is confounding.
Whether it’s the coalescence of Catholic churches (which was the first religious community to denounce Roe v. Wade) with public hospitals or the Republican Party’s insistence on passing archaic notions into law, women are left with little to no choice in not only obtaining abortions but also other vital women’s health access. The effects of these decisions are explored in heart-wrenching personalized tales that are showcasing just how troubling these anti-choice laws can be. It’s deeply depressing that some women are being turned away from hospitals and clinics for illogical legislative reasoning–some of whom end up in critical condition, or worse, dying. Why this is an ongoing issue is hard to unpack, and one that is unfortunately rarely explored in the already jam-packed documentary.
While the film points to the idea that this a method of undoing feminism and gender equality, it is only hinted at. Had Tamarkin spent more time investigating why state legislators and religious leaders are so hellbent on taking women’s rights away, perhaps this documentary would sit side-by-side with other socially conscious documentaries like Ezra Edelman’s O.J.: Made in America or Ava DuVernay’s 13th. It is only once we understand why something is occurring that it becomes easier to understand how to stop it. In any case, Tamarkin’s Birthright: A War Story is a step in the right direction in examining the increasingly heart-wrenching corner that women are being put in due to the loss of women’s rights.
Birthright: A War Story was released by Abramorama in New York theaters July 14. Further releases across cities including Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington D.C. are expected.