"Why would Al Jazeera be interested in making a film about abortion in the United States?" That's a question we received often as we set out to film the documentary The Abortion War, for Fault Lines on Al Jazeera English. The answer is easy. For decades, abortion has been one of the most polarizing issues in American society, and during election time, it's often been used to mobilize voters. Any journalist covering the U.S. understands how important this issue is to an influential segment of the Republican Party's base.
We wanted to understand why this has come to be the case and to hear from the people at the center of this debate. We began filming our documentary months before Congressman Todd Akin's controversial comments about rape, which he made in the context of discussing abortion. But when we started the project in April, it was clear that abortion -- and even birth control -- were already playing a prominent role in the 2012 election. This year, all of the Republican presidential hopefuls declared they were anti-abortion and both parties have released campaign ads about President Obama's contraception mandate.
For months, Democrats have accused Republicans of waging a "War on Women," and not just because of the staunch opposition to government-funded birth control by many GOP politicians. In 2011, newly elected conservative Republican state legislators around the country introduced more than1,100 bills seeking to restrict women's reproductive rights, a 15 percent increase from the year before.
"We were really expecting the new lawmakers to focus on fiscal issues, get the budgets in order or, work on job creation," said Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute. "And what they ended up doing very early on in January 2011, was start attacking social issues, and especially abortion rights."
To understand the root causes of the attempts to restrict abortion, we traveled to California to attend a summer camp for teenage activists by a group called "Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust."
"The first time I saw a graphic image it really struck me -- wow, this is happening in America, this is happening in my country," Katie Rodgers-Hensier told us. She was one of the camp's participants and someone organizers hope will be a future leader in the anti-abortion movement. "God came and spoke to me and said, 'Look you need to do something about this. It is your job. The blood will be on your hands if you don't stand up.'"
We also obtained rare access to an abortion clinic in the swing state of Ohio, which has seen its fair share of abortion restrictions in the past few years. We spoke with women seeking the procedure -- the very people whom the abortion debate most affects. And we interviewed State Senator Nina Turner, an outspoken critic of abortion restrictions in the state, including the so-called Heartbeat Bill, which seeks to ban abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected. That could sometimes be as early as five or six weeks, before most women even know that they're pregnant.
"Women died, actually died, trying to get back alley abortions," Turner told us. "Do we want to go back to that, in the land of opportunity? In the land of freedom? The land of hope? I would say absolutely not. We should not go back to that."
Nearly one in three women will have an abortion in the U.S. by the age of 45. Around the world, in countries where abortion is illegal, many women with unplanned pregnancies routinely risk their lives to undergo the procedure.
At its heart, the debate over abortion in the U.S. is fascinating for journalists because it centers on clashing worldviews and, in some cases, deeply conflicting values. We hope you take the time to watch The Abortion War and judge for yourself.