“The film calls for a necessary shift in dialog that looks beyond abortion and focuses on the far-reaching impacts of anti-choice efforts on women who have no intention of ending their pregnancies.” – Jo Ardinger, Director, PERSONHOOD

Should the government have the power to override a woman’s constitutional rights during pregnancy? That question is examined in PERSONHOOD, Jo Ardinger’s feature documentary directorial debut. This urgent and timely reproductive justice film explores the criminalization and targeting of pregnant women as seen through the eyes of Tammy, a young mother swept up in dangerous new laws. PERSONHOOD (view the official trailer above) will have its world premiere at DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival on Friday, November 8 at Cinépolis Chelsea (for tickets).

The 14th Amendment guarantees rights to all U.S. citizens, including legal personhood at birth. In Wisconsin (and 37 other U.S. States), this right has been extended to unborn children. With the rise of the “fetal personhood” movement, comes dangerous new laws that encourage the surveillance, policing and criminalization of women during pregnancy. As a result, prosecutions of women for miscarriages, stillbirths and using drugs while pregnant are becoming widespread.

PERSONHOOD brings the human impact of these policies into the light through the story of Tamara (“Tammy”) Loertscher, a rural Wisconsin mother who was jailed after telling her doctor about her occasional preconception drug use (behavior that occurred before she even knew she was pregnant), placing her pregnancy under the oppressive scrutiny of the state.

The film follows Tammy’s story after her incarceration as she rebuilds her life and fights to overturn Wisconsin’s ‘Unborn Child Protection Act.’ Like a moment from the chilling “Handmaid’s Tale,” Tammy’s fetus was given an attorney, while the courts denied Tammy her constitutional rights. Tammy is forced to challenge a Wisconsin law that invaded her privacy, her right to due process, and her body sovereignty. At the intersection of the erosion of women’s rights, the war on drugs and mass incarceration, Tammy’s experience reveals the dangerous consequences of these little-known laws for American women and families.

PERSONHOOD features interviews with leading advocates of women’s reproductive health rights. Lynn Paltrow is the founder of National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), an organization that works to ensure that no one loses their constitutional or human rights as a result of pregnancy. Sara Ainsworth is the former Director of Legal Advocacy at NAPW and was part of Tammy’s early legal team. Sara is now the Policy and Legal Director at If/When/How and continues to advocate for the rights of pregnant women. Freya Bowen is an attorney with Perkins Coie and was an integral part of Tammy’s legal team in Wisconsin. Cherisse Scott is the founder and CEO of SisterReach, a reproductive justice organization in Tennessee that works to educate and empower women and girls of color. Cristina Aguilar is the former Executive Director of Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR). Aguilar is now the founder and president of Aguilar Strategies. The film also includes Arthur Caplan, PhD,  a leading bioethicist and the founding head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU School of Medicine in New York City. And on the opposing side of the debate, Gualberto Garcia-Jones is the former legal analyst for Personhood USA, the organization behind placing dozens of “fetal personhood” amendments on state ballots across the country and he now serves as president of the Personhood Alliance, as well as with Keith Mason, the founder of Personhood USA.

“After learning about the ‘fetal personhood’ movement, I felt both terrified and compelled, and I knew I needed to tell this underreported story that was playing out in the shadows of the divisive abortion debate,” said PERSONHOOD director Jo Ardinger. “Tammy’s story deeply affected me. I saw an introverted human being willing to stand up to power, and it inspired me. The film calls for a necessary shift in dialog that looks beyond abortion and focuses on the far-reaching impacts of anti-choice efforts on women who have no intention of ending their pregnancies.”

Editor’s Note: The entire Women You Should Know team remains honored to have worked with Jo Ardinger and Rosalie Miller on the crowdfunding campaign they successfully ran on our sister platform, Women You Should Fund. Their campaign efforts secured them the money they needed to finish PERSONHOOD, an incredibly powerful film that everyone MUST see so its change-making impact can be far-reaching. They are women and filmmakers we are so proud to know.

Meet The Filmmakers

Jo Ardinger – Director/Producer/Editor: Jo is the founder of Tandybrook Productions. An active part of the Seattle film community, Jo is a director and award-winning editor working in both documentary and narrative. Recent documentary editing credits include Beyond the Visible: The Story of the Very Large Array, narrated by Jodi Foster (Media Interpretive Award, Cine Golden Eagle, Telly); and the PBS documentary, Into Deepest Space: The Birth of the ALMA Observatory. Other work includes additional editing credit on Imba Means Sing (Best Humanitarian Documentary, Global Film Awards, 2016), and the Discovery HD series, Fantastic Festivals of the World. Ardinger is also an instructor at the University of Washington in Seattle, where she teaches digital storytelling in science.

Rosalie Miller – Producer: Rosalie is an award-winning filmmaker, actor and co-founder of Wanderhouse. She produces commercial video, branded content and narrative and documentary film. She is currently in production on her second short documentary, Worth My Salt, a 2017 GAP Award recipient and 2016 4Culture Artist Award recipient. Her documentary short debut, The Things We Keep, premiered at the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival and was picked up by Alaska Airlines and KCTS9 Reel NW. She serves as a producer on PERSONHOOD, recent winner of a 2018 CityArtists Project Grant. Other awards include: WIF Seattle Professional Grant, AmDocs Film Fund Grant, and an Arts Project Award with 4Culture. Rosalie is a member of Women Make Movies, Seattle Documentary Association and Women in Film Seattle.