BIRTHRIGHT: A WAR STORY
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
Director: Civia Tamarkin
Written by: Lucina Fisher, Civia Tamarkin
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/11/17
Opens: July 14 in NY; July 28 in LA
Perhaps the number one priority of the conservative movement in America is that government should restrict itself largely to the defense of the people; that regulations on business should be reduced; and that the privacy of the individual and the family is paramount. Why, then, are the most conservative politicians-largely Republicans in the red states—the ones most eager to regulate the most intimate choices of women? Specifically conservative legislators in the states, and members of the House Senate, Supreme Court and the Executive department on a national level, seem determined to override or at least weaken Roe v. Wade, which within some limits gave women the right to end their own pregnancies. In Civia Tamarkin’s documentary “Birthright: A War Story,” the filmmaker, with the input of co-writer Luchina Fisher, presents both sides in the abortion battle. And while the film does present ideologues on both sides, those who are “pro-life” and those who are “pro-choice,” this is not a fair and balanced presentation, nor does it have to be. Tamarkin sides with those who want to keep government out of their bedrooms, and who reluctantly seek to end their pregnancies for reasons of their own. Some do not want more kids than they have now. Others are not yet ready to care for any babies, while some have had fetuses diagnosed with infirmities that would likely impact on the survival of these unborn.
So Tamarkin deals with both sides, all part of the culture wars going on in our politically divided country. Pro-choice people in the film say that women should have the right to decide what to do with their own bodies, and fetuses, last I checked, exist wholly within the bodies of these individuals. Pro-life people say that no, the fetus is a separate form of life and has rights of its own separate from the rights of its prospective mothers. As the film progresses, you’re left with a summing up that people are pro-life if they believe the fetus should enjoy the same protections of the U.S. Constitution as an actual baby. In that regard, they may argue even against contraception, in that IUDs, pills, condoms and the like are almost as bad as abortion, as they prevent the egg from being fertilized. By doing that, they say, they are preventing a new human being from being brought to the banquet of life.
Tamarkin soon enough opens the debate to a larger context: that not only is the right to end a pregnancy the privilege of a woman, but that there’s a general war going on against women. In one situation, an Orthodox Jewish woman was given five minutes to make a decision. The doctor wanted to do C-section and she wanted a natural childbirth. But since she was on Medicaid, the doctor believed he had the right to dismiss her preference, and suggested that if she does not sign for a C-section, she would be sent right home. It gets worse: even without her signature, she was wheeled into the operating room, given the C-section against her will and without her signature. She sued the doctors and the hospital. Two years after filing suit, the case is still ongoing. What happened to what we learned on “The Good Wife,” wherein judges became available immediately at the beck and call of the law firm?
While Tamarkin does capture several demonstrations by citizens on both sides of the argument, even capturing the murky interior of a hospital in black-and-white cinematography, she makes virtually no use of cinematic techniques such as special effects, animation, anything to vary the pace. As a result, the major part of the film consists of talking heads citing the usual arguments, those any educated adult by now should be familiar with. The funereal piano music, casting an aura of cheap sentiment, could be scrapped to allow spectators to concentrate more on the spoken word.
But who knows? A lot of so-called educated adults have no idea that there’s a war going on. A group of high-school students asked to explain Roe v. Wade wondered whether it was something about black history or at any rate was something they learned about way back—as if they had to know it for a test but forget that this major decision could well have an effect on their own lives in the not too distant future. In that regard, “Birthright” is an important contribution.
Unrated. 105 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers? Agree? Disagree? Why?