At HelloFlo, we love sharing the stories of incredible women who are changing the world, and one such woman is Rebecca Haimowitz, an award-winning filmmaker who is talking about a lesser known issue in the realm of protecting fetal life. She’s working on a new documentary titled The Pregnancy Exclusion, and by the end of this interview, you’re going to want to donate to her Indiegogo campaign.
What is The Pregnancy Exclusion, and can you talk briefly about the case that it’s covering?
Rebecca Haimowitz: The Pregnancy Exclusion is a documentary film about the personal story behind a controversial law. The film explores the case of Marlise Muñoz, a 33 year-old Texas woman who was pregnant with her second child when she suffered a pulmonary embolism and was pronounced brain dead. Despite her previously stated wishes, the Muñoz family was forced to keep Marlise on mechanical support against her will because of a legal statute that states “a person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment…from a pregnant patient.”
What followed was a complicated ordeal, with critical implications about bodily autonomy, legal and civil rights and medical ethics.
A lot of people were talking about this case when it first happened – everyone seemed to have an opinion on what choice the family should make. But the point is: the family didn’t have a choice. This film explores the Muñoz family’s journey – from personal tragedy to activism as they fight to change this law that caused them so much suffering. Their story is also the jumping off point to look at a growing trend of laws that seek to control a pregnant woman’s body. Even her dead body.
What inspired you to film this documentary and cover these events?
RH: I was very moved by this story when I first heard about it in the news last year. I couldn’t imagine the pain that Marlise’s family was going through and the shock of having their own personal tragedy turn into such a polarizing political event. There was a lot of media attention initially, but I felt this issue deserved the attention and time that a documentary film can give. Once I learned that this law actually exists in 32 states (and counting!) I knew that someone needed to bring this issue to light to start a national conversation and hopefully make a real impact.
Why do you think it’s important for people (specifically women) to know about these laws regarding pregnant women?
RH: These laws are not just about pregnancy. At their core, these laws create a second-class status for all women because they deny equal rights when it comes to making end-of-life decisions. I don’t think that everyone with the capacity for pregnancy should be excluded from the security and protections afforded by knowing they can plan their lives.
Usually, when we hear about laws intended to protect fetal life, we assume they are referring to abortion. But this case shows that fetal protection laws can have all kinds of affects on women. Marlise Muñoz did not have an abortion; she died. And then the state of Texas decided they should take control of her dead body to try to incubate a fetus, despite her husband and parents objections.
More than half the states in this country have similar or identical laws on the books. I think everyone needs to know about this.
What can someone interested in these issues do?
RH: There’s a lot we can do! We are making this film to show the human story behind this complicated issue. We are currently crowdfunding to raise awareness and support for our upcoming filming in Texas. You can learn more about our film and our campaign on Indiegogo.
There’s also a lot of great work being done by organizations like the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, the ACLU, NARAL Pro Choice and more.
This week, the Muñoz family and their supporter in the Texas House of Representatives will be announcing new legislation based on the Marlise Muñoz case. Supporting this legislation is a great way to make a tangible impact.