War zones are nothing new to documentary filmmaker Civia Tamarkin.
“I had a long career as a journalist,” Tamarkin said. “I actually covered the fall of Vietnam.”
Tamarkin worked as an investigative reporter for outlets such as CNN and “People” magazine, covering a range of social justice and criminal justice issues. Tamarkin’s most recent project, “Birthright: A War Story,” which the Carefree resident co-wrote and directed, covers a battlefield here at home.
Described as a real-life “Handmaid’s Tale,” the film presents the current state of women’s reproductive rights in America. The film’s Arizona premiere on Sunday, Oct. 22, is sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women/Arizona Section.
Tamarkin will provide a brief introduction to the film and conduct a Q&A after. There will also be a reading of social justice-themed poems by Phoenix Poet Laureate Rosemarie Dombrowksi.
Tamarkin explained she began developing the documentary after the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court Hobby Lobby ruling that says corporations with religious owners cannot be required to pay for insurance coverage for contraception.
“As somebody who had marched in the ’60s and demonstrated in the early ’70s for civil rights and women’s rights and reproductive freedom, I was just appalled,” Tamarkin said. “I did not understand how, No. 1, contraception had become part of the war on abortion and, No. 2, how women’s reproductive freedoms and the rights that had been secured back in 1973 were eroding.”
Tamarkin said she was interested in widening the scope of the debate beyond the familiar anti-abortion/pro-abortion-rights dichotomy and into a broader discussion about women’s reproductive rights and autonomy over their own bodies.
“I wanted to understand the opposition,” Tamarkin said. “I wanted to understand the evolution, the strategy, the growth and, of course, the impact of the opposition movement and why the feminist movement had become so fragmented, why the defense line was so weak and why, again, there is a whole generation of young women that are not out on the streets.
“I came to the conclusion it’s because they really don’t know how vulnerable it is,” she added.
One way the documentary seeks to open the debate is by exploring cases of women who were not seeking to end their pregnancies but were impacted by laws passed to restrict access to abortion.
The film puts a human face on the issues through conversations with women and couples caught in the crossfire. In one interview, a woman discusses how she was denied a tubal ligation procedure by her Catholic hospital. In another case, an Orthodox Jewish woman was forced to undergo a Caesarian section without her consent.
In a third case, we learn how in 2010, Danielle Deaver’s life was endangered when her water broke 22 weeks into her pregnancy. Despite the fact doctors gave the fetus a very low chance of survival, Deaver was denied medical assistance in removing the fetus because of a recently passed Nebraska law.
In a tearful interview with Deaver and her husband, the film shows the emotional toll such politicization of medical procedures can inflict.
“I wanted to do a film that would show the collateral damage,” Tamarkin said. “That would show the fallout of this ‘anti-abortion’ movement, that would show that women, regardless of their views on the singular procedure of abortion, regardless of their political leanings, can be ensnared into the philosophy and victimized by this movement, so that every woman capable of becoming pregnant, even women who want to carry a pregnancy to
term, are now subject to this prevailing fetus-first mentality.”
The film also examines the issues through interviews with a host of experts from the social sciences, medicine and women’s health care and employs footage of activists, politicians and regular people talking about both sides of the debate, including one of an Oklahoma lawmaker who referred to pregnant women as “hosts.”
Another scene shows young women being interviewed about the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the U.S. Their inability to answer questions about the case is used to demonstrate how decades of misinformation and politicization have obscured the central issues.
“I wanted to show that this is not an issue of ‘choice’ and abortion. It’s an issue of a woman’s fundamental right to bodily integrity, to bodily autonomy,” Tarmakin said.
“These are basic human rights, and people don’t think of it that way and that was the intent of the film, to show that women do not stop being constitutionally protected beings because they are capable of carrying a fertilized egg.” JN
“Birthright: A War Story” screens Sunday, Oct. 22, at 2:10 p.m. at Harkins Shea 14, 7354 E. Shea Blvd., Scottsdale. For more information, visit ncjwaz.org.