More than 40 years after Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, the Supreme Court decision remains a rallying cry on both sides of the still-raging debate over reproductive rights. But as Civia Tamarkin's documentary makes alarmingly clear, it's on the sidelines that the anti-abortion movement has waged its battle, state by state, clinic by clinic, chipping away at women's healthcare options, safety and autonomy. The war story that "Birthright" traces is a war of attrition.
Longtime journalist Tamarkin lays out a few decades' worth of history with a pointed artlessness, and at first the doc feels like a recap as argument, unlikely to galvanize anyone. But through its haunting firsthand accounts, it becomes a wake-up call for people on both sides of the argument.
What makes it not just instructive but essential is Tamarkin's focus on what she calls the war's collateral damage: women caught up, in absurd and shocking ways, in restrictions that favor the unborn over the already living — what one advocate of abortion rights calls the "policing of the womb."
A married couple share the horrors they endured as a direct result of Nebraska's 20-week abortion ban, predicated on questionable science and leading a wave of similar legislation. The implications extend far beyond abortion, and in paradoxical ways for those who claim to want government out of healthcare. With its chilling evidence of fetus-centric policies in practice, "Birthright" shows Big Brother in action, and at his most misogynistic.
'Birthright: A War Story'
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; also July 29-30, Art Theatre, Long Beach