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Pro-Choice and Anti-Abortion: On Both Sides of the ‘Heartbeat’ Bills

May 08, 2019 | 803 videos
Video by Emily Cameron

In the Emma Goldman Clinic in Iowa City, Iowa, two women, anonymously speaking with a nurse, reveal the reasons they are seeking an abortion. “I’m just not ready,” says one woman. “I start college in August. I know I wouldn’t be able to handle this. I already have depression and anxiety ...”


“I’m African, from Sudan,” says another. “I’m a student here. [My husband and I] have one child. Zero income. No work. I can’t take care of two kids.”


Outside the clinic, protesters harangue patients as they enter. “There’s no need to kill your child today,” one says to a young man.


Meanwhile, in the waiting room, a receptionist counsels a prospective patient. “There’s a trial going on, but right now we can continue to provide services as normal,” the receptionist says into the phone.


That trial is the subject of Emily Cameron’s short documentary Heartbeat, Iowa, premiering on The Atlantic today. The film hears from Iowans who support and oppose the so-called heartbeat bill, which made its way through the state legislature in 2018 and was signed into law by Governor Kim Reynolds in May that year. The bill, which is similar to the one that passed yesterday in Georgia, proposed a ban on abortion procedures in Iowa after a fetal heartbeat is detected—usually within six to eight weeks of pregnancy. An aforementioned lawsuit filed this year by the Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Iowa alleged the bill violated the Iowa state constitution.


“These ‘heartbeat’ laws effectively ban abortion altogether, as most women don’t know they’re pregnant before the fetal heartbeat can be detected,” Cameron told me.


For many years, states have enacted laws targeting abortion-care providers and attempted to ban specific abortion methods. Iowa’s “heartbeat” bill, however, is “a much more aggressive, visible approach to antiabortion legislation,” according to Cameron.


In the film, Iowa Senator Amy Sinclair, a Republican from Wayne County, explains why she fought for the bill. “I don’t look at this as an antiabortion movement,” she says. “I look at this truly as an understanding, outside of any man-made laws, that every single human life has value that is intrinsic to it.”


Cameron said that representing both sides of the debate was challenging from a filmmaking perspective. Although she tried to be judicious with the amount of screen time afforded to pro-abortion-rights and anti-abortion advocates, Cameron said some viewers still perceive her film as biased. “Where you fall in the debate makes a big difference,” she said. “I’ve had people on both sides tell me they think the film is too weighted towards the opposing belief.”


In January 2019, Judge Michael Huppert ruled in favor of the claimants who filed suit against the “heartbeat” law in Iowa, prohibiting its enforcement with a permanent injunction.


In addition to Iowa’s and Georgia’s bills, similar “heartbeat” legislation was passed in Mississippi and Ohio, both of which are effective beginning in July. Other states, including Florida, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas, are following suit in what many consider to be a growing trend in restrictive abortion law.

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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.