The abortion debate is certainly not relegated to the U.S. In Alessandra Zeka and Holen Sarina Kahn's A Quiet Inquisition, the filmmakers look at the controversial issue through the personal story of Dr. Carla Cerrato, an OBGYN in Nicaragua who must choose between following a law that bans all abortions or risk providing care that she believes can save a woman's life. Some abortion had been legal in Nicaragua for 130 years, but the return of Daniel Ortega to the presidency—and a conversion to Catholicism—spelled doom for the law. The filmmakers share their experience shooting in a public hospital in the Central American nation, finding their subjects and how this story has universal implications. The film will make its world premiere at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival June 15.

A Quiet Inquisition

Alessandra Zeka & Holen Sabrina Kahn, USA, 2014, 65m

Responses co-authored by Alessandra Zeka and Holen Sabrina Kahn:

On the role of a doctor versus the laws of a country:

The main motivation was to present a routine OBGYN’s viewpoint of a total prohibition of abortion, in particular therapeutic abortion—the complete incapacity of a doctor to perform their duties and save lives. We wanted to highlight the contradictions of a doctor’s Hippocratic oath to save her patients versus the laws of the country, and to reveal the impacts and repercussions of such severe prohibitions.

On creative storytelling through documentary film:

Film, and documentary film in particular, can be extremely effective instigators and mediums for activism because they allow people to more clearly see different viewpoints through creative storytelling. By revealing the very real consequences and casualties of a total ban on abortion in another country, the audience becomes not only more informed and mindful about what is happening in Nicaragua but also more aware of what is happening locally. Thus film can become a motivational tool for viewers to be involved in the decisions made in their local legislature.

On gaining the trust of their subjects and portraying a complex political climate:

One of the biggest challenges was to quickly gain the trust of our female subjects. To be a foreigner with a camera in an emergency room in a Nicaraguan public hospital and simultaneously inspire confidence while not being a distraction, was always going to be a challenge. We had to build a sense of trust before they felt enough at ease to tell their oftentimes harrowing stories. Another challenge was to try and give our audience a comprehensive background of the complex history of Nicaragua, without giving too much didactic information. However, this is essential to understand as it illuminates perhaps the biggest challenge of all, the political climate. There is a general fear that even voicing opposition to this law in Nicaragua could result in negative consequences, especially for a doctor in a public hospital. The bravery of Dr. Carla Cerrato cannot be underestimated.

On the impact of abortion on women's and maternal health:

We hope that the audience will be able to look at abortion prohibitions from a different perspective and realize that, regardless of their philosophical standpoint on abortion in general, we need to understand the impact on women’s health and maternal health. When a doctor is made incapable of performing their duty, the casualty rate is bound to rise.