If you’re not in the mood for a feel-good holiday movie this season, we have you covered!
In a month of shiny, colorful holiday decor Director Sarah Joy Byington reminds us — in black and white — why so many pregnant people can’t have nice things. Like equitable health care.
Byington describes her film “Labor + Justice” as “surrealist nightmare.” The Black-Mirror-like rePROFilm Vol. 23 short film selection envisions a world in which the power of the state completely subsumes that of pregnant people.
It’s not a pretty picture — not that we’re loving reality right now, either. Byington was in pre-production on the film when the “Dobbs” draft leaked, a real-life warning of what was to come. “There is no time to lose,” they said. “The idea that art doesn’t bring change is a lie. It is my hope that this film will bring awareness, change minds, and provoke change.”
xo, Team rePROFilm
The short film “Labor + Justice” explores a world in which bureaucracy has completely overtaken reproductive health care.
In other words, the rePROFilm Vol. 23 film selection is a (very) heightened version of reality. It made us curious about the bureaucracy doctors and their pregnant patients already face in the real world. In her column for this issue, our resident medical expert writes about the “impossible position” many obstetricians find themselves in, unable to make the best choices for their patients due to vague, poorly worded anti-abortion laws.
We also have links to stories about two entities that have made the reproductive landscape increasingly dystopian: Activists have torpedoed modest, Republican-led efforts to clarify language around abortion exceptions. And even in “abortion safe haven” states, religiously affiliated hospital systems jeopardize access to abortion care.
This installment is all about listening to doctors and abortion providers. Are you paying attention? What do you hear?
On the rePROFilm Periodical Podcast, filmmaker Sarah Byington describes her short film “Labor + Justice” — “not a fun ride, an upsetting ride.”
It’s an apt description of the rePROFilm Vol. 23 selection, which presents a dystopia in which an uncaring and inexpert panel of judges weigh in on the outcomes of childbirth.
But haven’t we all been on an “upsetting ride” since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down abortion protections? Our Spotify playlist this month reflects the rage and sadness coursing through so many of us.
But there’s hope, too: in the art created from anger, in activism, and especially in the voting booth. Tis the season to use our voices.
Hang on, friends. We’re not there yet.
As advocates for reproductive justice it’s natural — and very human — to feel discouraged right now. Still, we feel inspired every day by the work of activists. We’re ending the year by highlighting an organization resolved to help anyone who needs legal guidance and other kinds of support to navigate the reproductive health landscape.
We also invite you to find and connect with the reproductive justice leaders and workers in your own community. We’ve already accomplished so much by working together, but the struggle is far from over.
Set in a dystopian United States, pregnant persons are required by law to give birth in front of a panel of judges. Failure to birth a living baby sentences the mother to immediate execution.
This month’s selection may make you squirm in your seat a little bit. Then again, what’s comfortable about the U.S. reproductive health care system, and who gets to make the decisions? As we enter another pivotal election year, it’s a good reminder that knowledge, intention and action matter. (LMC)
Comparable to The Twilight Zone and Black Mirror, Labor + Justice weaves thriller with horror, yet draws out empathy and heartbreak with its all-to-relatable themes. The most obvious theme is the injustice of a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body and her unborn child.
Ask an Expert: Reel Talk with Dr. Julia
Maternity care in a post-Dobbs environment
Sarah Joy Byington’s film “Labor + Justice” takes place in a dystopian future where women who “fail” to deliver a living baby are immediately sentenced to death by a grotesque panel of judges. These men (and one woman) know nothing of medicine and care even less for the humans involved. The film evokes disgust, followed by devastation for the woman whose child is stillborn. The doctor in the film is outraged because he was not allowed to care for the patient in a manner that might have saved the baby.
While we don’t sentence women to death for having a stillbirth, laws restricting or banning abortion have been enacted in many states in the year and a half since the Supreme Court overturned Roe. Twenty states have now banned abortion or limited it to the first six weeks (which has essentially the same effect as a ban, as many people don’t know they are pregnant by six weeks). Though all states with bans include language about exceptions to save the life of the mother, there is a lack of clarity about what this means in practice. What conditions qualify? How sick does a patient have to be? It seems the fetus takes precedence unless the pregnant patient is truly about to die. It is impossible to predict every possible condition or scenario that might result in the death of a pregnant person, and the language in these laws is intentionally vague.
Some Republicans were willing to compromise on abortion ban exceptions. Activists made sure they didn’t.
Some Republican politicians have moved to clarify the vague language around abortion exceptions so that doctors and their patients know how to proceed in difficult circumstances. But most have caved to pressure from extremist abortion opponents.
How religious hospitals block access to care, even in ‘safe haven’ states
It’s not just judges and politicians that impede access to reproductive health care. “If you live in a ‘blue’ or ‘abortion haven’ state, you may feel protected from abortion bans,” writes Planned Parenthood’s Rebecca Gibron. “But the truth is, your health care may be limited by the religious interests directing your local hospital.”
With special guest Sarah Joy Byington
“Labor + Justice” is such a tonally wild and imaginative film, we were fascinated to hear a behind-the-scenes conversation about of how it came together. For example, director Sarah Joy Byington researched real-life stories of women charged with crimes after experiencing miscarriages or stillbirths. Their stories inspired her dystopian narrative. On this month’s Periodical Podcast, the director speaks with Asha Dahya about making a shocking-yet-sensitive film. She also shares how motherhood helped shift her own views on abortion and reproductive justice. Ultimately, “Labor + Justice” reflects her own growing understanding of this complex topic, including how it intersects with race, homelessness, and substance abuse.
“It’s always easy to blame the mother.” — Sarah Joy Byington
Our Vol. 23 short film selection “Labor + Justice” skewers a legal system that interferes with individual medical decisions. We can’t think of a better organization to champion alongside it than If/When/How, the organization that runs the Repro Legal Defense Fund and Repro Legal Help Line.
With the slogan “lawyering for reproductive justice,” If/When/How provides financial support for people investigated or fighting charges related to their pregnancy or abortion. Their legal helpline is safe, free, confidential, and open to anyone who is facing a legal emergency or needs help understanding the laws in their state. Consider plugging it into your phone so you have it when you (or someone you know) needs it: 844-868-2812.
rePROFilm endeavors to make our programming a safe, accessible and welcome place for anyone who wants to participate. We acknowledge that we have much to learn about creating this space, and welcome and and all feedback that can make us better aware and able to support all minds and bodies.
We are committed to screening films in accessible venues, and also understand that meeting ADA standards for accessibility does not actually mean a venue is actually accommodating for everyone. As best we can, we will offer a complimentary companion ticket to our film screenings as requested. For our virtual screenings, we ask all filmmaking teams to provide closed captioning, audio descriptions or open captions whenever possible. For any questions, please contact us at 323-810-6909 or firstname.lastname@example.org. We are here to do our best to make our programming as inclusive as possible.