Review: In ‘Birthright: A War Story,’ a 40-Year Offensive Against Reproductive Choices

Aug 3, 2017     Birthright   0 Comment     Reviews

“Birthright: A War Story” packs a powerful message: that reproduction has become perilous for women in America.

Abortion is beside the point. The thesis here is that, after Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, opponents of the decision spent the next 40 years organizing an incremental offensive on multiple fronts to restrict access to abortion, contraception and sterilization by piling on state regulations and putting forward political candidates to further their cause.

The anti-abortion talking heads in the film do not deny the strategy, nor do they get much of the spotlight. This documentary, directed by Civia Tamarkin and written by Ms. Tamarkin and Luchina Fisher, argues that new laws have stripped away health services unrelated to abortion and have deprived women, particularly those with lower incomes, of routine care. While women’s clinics and providers were attacked by violent extremists and closed as funding dried up, more insidious, less publicized changes, including the legislation and the mergers and acquisitions that brought hospitals under the control of religious groups, were having far-reaching effects.

The case histories are stacked to support the film’s point of view, but that doesn’t make them less painful. Worst are the new mothers jailed on child-abuse charges because of drug tests administered without their knowledge. The victims are the babies, left motherless. One woman had to wait out a nonviable pregnancy because the law forbade inducing labor after 20 weeks. A single mother with several children was denied sterilization surgery because of a hospital’s religious beliefs; Medicaid limited her providers, and she could not afford to travel to a distant clinic. Their stories illustrate the consequences of these developments, some of them perhaps unintended, but frightening nonetheless.

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