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Heartbeat: A Play

By Noelle Johnson

( @noelle.e.johnson )

November 12, 2020. Kentucky. Donald Trump was inaugurated in 2016, and has closed down many abortion clinics across America due to his Affordable Care Act. The heartbeat bill was recently championed by Republican Senator Matt Castlen in the state of Kentucky. It has taken into effect. The play is set over the course of an hour and a half (3:30-5:00 PM) in the last abortion clinic in Kentucky. It closes in two days.


KIARA: (17) Any race, pansexual, gender-non-conforming womxn. Lower-middle class. Gets her clothes from Walmart, but still manages to look put together. Smart, tenacious, wants to be a human rights lawyer. At the clinic because her boyfriend didn’t pull out and said he was going to. Pro-choice.

MELISSA CASTLEN: (43) Fashionable, rich and white. Straight, cis. “Aged gracefully”. Think the style and presentation of Kellyanne Conway. She is at the clinic as a result of an affair with her son’s best friend. Wife of Senator Matt Castlen, who passed the heartbeat bill. This entire ordeal has put her in an extremely precarious situation. Never imagined she’d ever be in an abortion clinic. Pro-life.

SASHA: (35) Woman of color, straight, cis. First-generation American citizen. In her work clothes, middle class who works a white-collar job. Maybe a bank teller? She is simple-minded but happily so. Wise, yet down to earth. She is at the clinic because of an unplanned pregnancy with her fiance. Pro-choice, but is very aware of what she believes God thinks of her decision.

CELIA: (22) Any race, lesbian, cis. Wears skinny jeans and a collegiate (preferably Cincinnati Conservatory) sweatshirt. A clarinet major. Quiet, but curious. Possesses a strong moral compass and sense of self. She is at the clinic as the result of a rape. Pro-choice.

JULIE: (25) Any race, bisexual, cis. In her final year of college, a robotics major. Fiercely loyal, somewhat jaded. She is at the clinic with her girlfriend, CELIA. Supportive, but doesn’t necessarily understand CELIA’s feelings about abortion. Pro-choice, in most situations.

NURSE: (52) Any race, any sexuality, a womxn of any kind. Has been working at the clinic for years, has witnessed too many sad stories to count. Pro-choice. 


SASHA should not be the only person of color in the room, and MELISSA should not be the only white person in the room. Cast roles marked with “any race” as diversely as possible. Cis roles can be played by trans or non-binary actors, but queer roles (CELIA, JULIE, and KIARA) should ideally be played by queer actors.

(A news bulletin rings through the room. The heartbeat bill championed by state senator Matt Castlen has been signed in the state of Kentucky. Lights up on three women in a waiting room. Early 2000s pop music plays softly. A sign is posted next to the door that reads “OUT OF BUSINESS 11/14/2019.” KIARA looks at her phone calmly, chewing gum, a few seats away from MELISSA. MELISSA is reading a newspaper with the same headline about Matt Castlen as we heard over the speaker, and looks over to the door every once in a while. SASHA sits across from them both, merely sitting. Her glance is distant and unwavering, she is lost in thought, perhaps a daydream. A young couple, CELIA and JULIE, enters the room, JULIE opening the door for a clearly nervous CELIA. JULIE quietly tells her to sit, while she checks her in, in the next room. The audience barely hears this. MELISSA does. She watches. CELIA chooses a seat next to SASHA. She sighs as she sits, her breath wavering. It comes out louder than she expects, and it wakes SASHA from her “trance”. She notices CELIA and gives her a polite, acknowledging half-smile, then begins to dig through her purse. She eventually finds a pad and pencil and begins to write. JULIE re-enters, and plops down next to CELIA with a sympathetic, slightly patronizing smile. CELIA’s head drops to JULIE’s shoulder, and JULIE gives her a peck on the top of her head. They see that MELISSA is watching them, slightly judgmentally. This is the first time she has seen a lesbian couple in real life. She can’t help but stare.)

JULIE: (annoyed but used to it) Take a picture, it’ll last longer. 

(JULIE cuddles CELIA closer, as in protest. MELISSA blushes furiously and returns to her newspaper. KIARA looks up from her phone. Looks at all three parties, then holds her gaze on MELISSA’s flushed face. MELISSA pretends not to notice, but then returns the glance.)

MELISSA: Please stop staring at me. 

JULIE:  (half-mutter) Don’t like it much now do ya?

CELIA: Come on, Jules. 

(CELIA turns to JULIE and gives her a pleading look. JULIE softens. KIARA has been watching this whole exchange. SASHA finally looks up through her glasses, annoyed at MELISSA.)

MELISSA: Don’t look at me like that.

KIARA: (still accusatory) Like what? 

MELISSA: Like you’re judging me.

JULIE: (snorts)

MELISSA: What is so unbelievable about not wanting to be judged?

CELIA: Absolutely nothing. (to gently silence JULIE)

SASHA: (to CELIA) You got a feisty one there, sweetie.

CELIA: (lovingly) That’s an understatement.

(Beat. SASHA notices CELIA’s sweatshirt)

SASHA: Cincinnati, eh?

CELIA: Uh, yes. We both go there.

SASHA: My stepson does too. You know a Jeremy Weiss?

(CELIA and JULIE look at each other)

JULIE: I don’t think so, sorry.


KIARA: (considering CELIA and JULIE) Huh.


KIARA: Well…

JULIE: Well, what?

KIARA: Why are you here?

CELIA: (wavering) Um...excuse me?

KIARA: Well… if you two are a couple...then how did you-

JULIE: (protectively) She doesn’t have to answer that. I wouldn’t make you answer that, why should you do it to her?

(The whole group turns to KIARA, waiting expectantly.)

KIARA: Geez, sorry. I...I didn’t mean to pry. I was just curious.

SASHA: Curiosity killed the cat, you know. 

KIARA: Never heard that one before.

MELISSA: (to KIARA) Jesus Christ, are you really so self-righteous that you can’t--

CELIA: Please. Do we have to do this right now? This is hard enough without this extra arguing.


KIARA: I’ll tell you why I’m here.

(The room stares at her.)

KIARA: I’m not ashamed. It’s not my fault or anything. And I’m no Jesus Freak. I’m not emotionally torn up by this. My name’s Kiara, I’m a high school senior, and my boyfriend didn’t pull out in time. It was just a mistake, and now I’m here. I have a scholarship waiting for me at Berkeley and I’m not going to let an accident stand in the way of my future. My aunt gave me the number of this place, and I decided to go. It’s just as simple as that. 

(The group continues to stare, and MELISSA eventually turns away.)

KIARA: What about you?

(The group turns to MELISSA. She is clearly flustered but is trying to remain austere and proper.)

MELISSA: What do you mean? I- I’m not here because of some… Well, I am here for um, that. But I’m not like you. The rest of you, that is.  I-I-I have a husband. And we are very happy… and we just… we just, um, can’t afford to... Well, we have two kids already and with our lifestyle we just…  can’t afford another.

(SASHA looks her up and down, and laughs).

SASHA: You’ve gotta be shitting me…

MELISSA: Excuse me?

SASHA: You heard me. Come on, honey. You’re wearing Prada pumps and that’s a Birkin bag. Can’t afford another kid my ass… 

MELISSA: I’m sorry but I don’t understand what right you seem to think you have to interpret my life. My husband works hard to give my sons and me the life we have. And I appreciate everything he does for us.

JULIE: (to CELIA, a little too loudly) That’s an affair abortion right there.

(MELISSA is visibly shaken, however she still remains to hold herself high. A beat.)

SASHA: (still writing in her notepad) Well, is she right?

MELISSA: O-Of course not. I have a happy life with my husband…. I-I-I’d never be unfaithful to him. We’ve been married for thirty-two years and frankly, our relationship is none of your business. All of you. 

KIARA: Um, I’m sorry. I’m sorry you’re uncomfortable with our situation here. But we’re all in the same boat. This is the only time and place where I can discuss this major rift in my life and make my experience heard.

(SASHA looks up from her pad and pencil for the first time in a bit, glancing at KIARA.)

SASHA: Ok. Then let’s talk about it. If you’re so eager to become some kind of women-at-the-clinic band of survivors, then let’s go. You talked about you and your boyfriend and The Queen over here talked about her money problems and shit, but what about you? (to CELIA) What’s your story? She had a point, how did this thing happen?

JULIE: Celie? You don’t have to talk if you don’t want to. But it might help you feel better, a community, ya know?

(The two look at each other for a moment. CELIA speaks.)

CELIA: Sure. Um… ok. Here we go. So, we live um, on campus... And um… there had been reports and all lately, but I guess I never really took them seriously. I don’t party, and I stay in big groups and everything. I barely even see those kinds of guys anymore. At least, that’s what I thought. I had a late night class, and I had to walk back to the dorm in the dark. There was a group of guys walking behind me. They were clearly drunk, but I wasn’t too afraid, because I’m usually good at rejecting guys… I’m used to it, ya know? But, um, the next thing I know, there was a guy coming for me from around the corner and the ones from behind me came even faster… and then I lost consciousness. The next thing I know, Julie is waking me up and my clothes are gone… and that’s all I remember. We called the cops the next day. The trial is in a few months. I’m not sure who exactly caused this… (gestures to her abdomen) And to be honest, I don’t care to know.


KIARA: You’re right… he doesn’t deserve to be acknowledged.

SASHA: You know you’re really brave to come forward. My big sister never did. And now it’s too late. Statute of limitations and such.

CELIA: Thank you. I’m just so lucky to have such a supportive girlfriend. If it weren’t for her, I… I don’t know what would’ve happened.

(CELIA gazes at JULIE gratefully. JULIE gives her a kiss on the forehead, and holds her closer.)

MELISSA: (suddenly) I’m sorry.

JULIE: (defensively) For what?

MELISSA: (setting her pride aside to try to be respectful) For… for being judgemental earlier. I never meant any harm. I’ve just never seen a pair of… women in real life before.

CELIA: It’s… it’s ok. You didn’t mean to do anything wrong. You didn’t know. Just... don’t do it anymore. 

MELISSA: (genuinely) Thank you.

(Beat. The women relax, satisfied and comfortable for a moment.)

NURSE: (over intercom) Hello ladies. Dr. Garcia has had a family emergency, so there will only be time for one more procedure this evening. I understand that this is a rather large inconvenience for you, however, we cannot control this situation. The next patient on the list is a Washington, Kiara. (all patients look at Kiara)  However, due to our upcoming foreclosure, we understand if Ms. Washington may volunteer her spot to another patient. We will be out to receive whichever woman is selected in the next hour. Thank you, have a nice day. May God be with you.

(The women stare at KIARA. The atmosphere, which once was one of companionship, transitions utter chaos. Every woman for herself.  The following dialogue overlaps until MELISSA’s line “I lied.”)

CELIA: (begins to cry, softly, without sound, as JULIE calms her)

SASHA: Well fuck. Fuck. Fuckin’ shit. First those dirty Republicans take away our reproductive rights, then what’s next? Where does all this stop? C’mon I’ve seen that Handmaid’s Tale shit; in ten years our cash will be forfeited over to our husbands, we’ll all be fired and mass hysteria will start. Soon we’ll all be slaves to our husbands getting raped every two weeks and then where’ll we be? I work my goddamn ass off for my fiance and there is no goddamn way that he’s taking half of my savings. I love the bastard but there is no way that I’m giving it all up to some man. You’d hope he’d let you at least have some rights around the house but once he dies off and your new government assigned husband shows up, you-

MELISSA: What do you mean “dirty Republicans?” You little snowflakes are the dirty ones, working any job, no matter how illegal it may be, without regard for the law. This used to be a good country. Hey, I was talking to you… Excuse me I was- Hey! Listen to me!

KIARA: You guys, I don’t know if I can do this. I mean I know you all have good reasons to be here but honest to god if it comes out I’m pregnant, I am absolutely done for. My asshole stepdad will kick me out in two seconds flat and while I do have places to stay, it’s gonna be even harder to pay off the remainder of the tuition at Berkeley, and I have to go there. I have to. I’m sorry but I’ve been working for this my entire life and I can’t give all that work up because my dumbass boyfriend couldn’t manage to pull out… (sees CELIA) But I do feel for you two. I could give birth and give it up and still manage to make my way through if I work at it enough but I can’t even imagine what something inside of you from a rapist would-

MELISSA: I lied.

(The group stares at her.)

MELISSA: I lied, ok? She was right. It was an affair. My son’s best friend. He’s about your age. (points to JULIE) It was consensual, and drunken, but not a mistake. But my husband has a temper and could completely cut me off if he finds out. (looks to KIARA) So please. You have to give it to me. You just have to. If this comes out then I am ruined. Absolutely ruined. No friends, no family, and you think I know how to manage on my own? And I don’t care if all you see me as is a poor poor rich woman, I just don’t. I may not be as similar as the rest of you, but I need this. I need this.

(Beat. KIARA sighs.)

KIARA: Anyone else?

JULIE: I mean, Celie here obviously. Please. Celia… she’s my life. We’re trying our best to get the law on our side… But there’s no guarantee that any of it will work out. Seeing someone you love in so much pain but not being able to fix it… it’s indescribable. Even worse than if it had happened to me, I would gladly have taken it instead of her. But I just have to do something about it. (taking CELIA’s hand) We need to do something about it.

CELIA: (to SASHA) But what about you? You’ve been so kind to us this whole time. Why do you need this?

SASHA: (*sighs*) My fiance has three kids, and he’s been a single dad most of his life. And because of the fucking affordable care act, I don’t get birth control anymore. We were careful, but condoms are only so effective. I’m just not ready for this. I’m really not. I haven’t even told him yet. (Long beat. She glances down at her notepad.)  But for once in my life I’m going to do something about this fucked up world. It’s time to finally take a stand. I have talked the talk long enough, but now I’m going to do something. Seek happy nights to happy days and all. I’m gone. I’m gone. I’m going places.

(SASHA walks to the door.)

SASHA: (under her breath) I had better make it to heaven for this.

(She exits. All three of the remaining women look at MELISSA.)

JULIE: So… you?

MELISSA: (getting more hysterical as the monologue goes on) What? I’m sorry but no. Is there some reason you all think I don’t deserve this? Because I do. I do, I do and I’m sorry. Ok? I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have picketed and prayed for you to change and protested and looked down upon you because now I’m a part of you. (the others look at her, in shock). Yes, that’s right. I was and still am pro-life, and never before this day have I been ashamed to say that. But I get it now. And I know that to you people I’m just a judgmental aging rich bitch but I’m a person too. And I should get to decide whether or not I give birth in nine months. (she looks into the eyes of the other women) I’m so sorry.

(The room falls silent. KIARA stands. Pulls out a flask from the pocket of her jacket.)

KIARA: My boyfriend left it in on purpose. I heard him telling his best friend last Thursday. One thing I’ll never truly understand is why I’m not allowed to make my own decisions about my body. Those in power will never know what it’s like to be in my shoes. My shoes are worn, passed down from my older brother. Bought at Walmart almost twelve years ago. (beat) When I was eight, I came home from school and my mother had tears in her eyes. She told me that in a small town in Connecticut, twenty kids my age were shot and killed. Killed by a man with a machine gun. I thrashed and begged and pleaded, asking my mother what I could do to bring them back. To bring those children back. I was hysterical. She yelled to me that they were already dead. That there was nothing I could do about their suffering. I can’t do anything about their suffering. Nothing. (beat) He’s right you know. My boyfriend. I won’t amount to anything. At least not anything his small mind can comprehend. Make your choice wisely. Peace out ladies. I’m gonna go change the world.

(KIARA takes a swig from the flask, and exits. CELIA looks up at JULIE, after a moment of silence.)

CELIA: Julie, I don’t need it. (turning to MELISSA) You can take it. Please, take it. 

JULIE: Celie, stop, you don’t know what you’re--

CELIA: (strength finally coming out) No, Jules. Listen to me. We can go somewhere in Ohio, get it done there. It’s my body, my fetus, and my choice, ok? I know that you care about me very much and that you want me to be happy, but this decision belongs to me. And I’ve decided that I’m giving it to her. 

(JULIE takes this in. She is silent, lost in thought for a beat. She takes a breath and begins to speak.

JULIE: Celie, it has a heartbeat already. I know you’ve seen the news, the interviews with that shithead Matt Castlen who championed the damn bill. And I know that you are very aware of what the implications of that fucking heartbeat are. But if that’s your decision, I need you to say it out loud. All of it. Or I won’t be able to sleep tonight.

(CELIE places her hand on top of JULIE’s.)

CELIA: (incredibly focused, never breaking eye contact with JULIE) My fetus has a heartbeat. Many states will not allow me to abort it at this stage. The senator of our state, Matt Castlen, has written the Heartbeat Bill. It has been signed by the governor. We will go to Ohio and get it out of me. It will be hard. We will both have to miss work, take a day of unpaid leave. People will picket in front of the clinic and will shout things at us. I will put on a hospital gown and count backward from ten while I am put under anesthesia. When I wake up, a piece of me will be missing from my body forever. It’s going to be the worst day of my life. (beat) But then we’re going to continue with our lives and finally move to the West Coast. We will get jobs in San Francisco or LA or San Diego and get a little apartment. You’ll care for me when I’m sick. I’ll make coffee just the way you like it. We might even get married. We might even have a child. We might even put this behind us. We might even be happy. But before we can do any of that, I need this fetus out of my body.

JULIE: (softly) Okay.

(The two women get up slowly, holding hands fiercely. Before they exit, CELIA turns to MELISSA.)

CELIA: (with a bravery and coldness we have not seen from her before) You had better let this fucking change you.

(CELIA and JULIE exit. MELISSA is left alone for a moment, shaken. Thinking very deeply. She takes her phone out of her purse, working her way up to call someone. She is about to press the button when the NURSE enters.)

NURSE: (clearly recognizing the name) Mrs. Castlen? 

(MELISSA looks up.)

NURSE: We’re ready for you.

(The NURSE escorts MELISSA offstage into another room. The room is now empty and lifeless, florescent lights more dull than ever. All is still and serene in a terrifying way. Lights down.)

~End of Play~


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