Danielle Deaver wanted to have her second baby when she was pregnant in 2010. When her water broke at 22 weeks, the Grand Island woman and her husband, Robb, were told the much-too-premature fetus had almost no chance of surviving and that keeping it presented a threat to her health.
But because of Nebraska’s recently passed “fetal pain” law, Deaver’s doctor could not assist in ending the pregnancy and removing the fetus — an abortion — because he would face fines and the loss of his medical license.
That forced Danielle to wait 10 days to give birth to the baby, which died a few minutes after.
The Deavers’ story introduces “Birthright: A War Story,” Civia Tamarkin’s documentary that examines, in a surprisingly even-handed manner, the efforts of abortion rights and anti-abortion advocates since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the U.S. in 1973.
At its simplest, while pro-choice advocates largely sat on the sidelines believing that Roe had ended the debate over abortion, opponents organized and began to chip away clinic by clinic, state by state — electing legislators who then enact laws designed to curtail or eliminate abortions in the states, all aimed at eventually overturning Roe v. Wade.
But those efforts, called by one of the advocates “policing the womb,” have not only eliminated women’s health care options, but placed them in danger of prosecution — which is where, in its second half, “Birthright: A War Story” becomes painfully powerful and pointed.
Recounting a handful of stories of women who found themselves facing prosecution during and after their pregnancies, the film finds, in one case, a woman with epilepsy who stopped taking her prescribed drugs to prevent another miscarriage and substituted marijuana to control her seizures. In another, a woman took half a Valium to calm down after a fight with her husband.
Both were charged with chemical endangerment of a child, laws designed to protect children in homes turned into meth labs.
Other examples find a poor woman who wanted a tubal ligation turned down by a Catholic hospital, forcing her to continue to risk pregnancy and abortion, and an Israeli immigrant forced by a doctor to have a Caesarean section.
Those chilling cases, and an examination of the “Personhood” movement, turn the documentary toward advocacy — warning women that their bodies are no longer their own and arguing for resistance to efforts to further diminish Roe v. Wade.