“The pro-life God has won already!” declaims a protestor outside a woman’s health clinic in the opening segment of Dawn Porter’s documentary Trapped. The title refers to an acronym: “Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers.” Porter’s well executed, on-point documentary is a comprehensive expose of the nature of the Trap Laws, their impact, their overriding purpose, and their underlying intent. Porter, with compassion and empathy, reveals the tremendous difficulties particular women’s health care clinics are facing in Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas. Her elucidations happen on the ground and we understand first-hand the tension involved with clinics being forced to close.
Porter conducts interviews with experts, clients, attorneys, doctors, providers, and clinic owners in Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas. These expert witnesses define what the “targeted regulations” are. As a result, we recognize the force of the burdens created by the operational restrictions that the women’s health care clinics must adhere to. Not only are they onerous, according to commentary from experts like Marva Sadler (Director of clinical services at Whole Woman’s Health), Dr. Willie Parker (faculty member at the Feinberg School of Medicine of Northwestern University), Amy Hagstrom Miller (Founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health), Dalton Johnson (Owner of Alabama Women’s Center) and Gloria Gray (Owner and director of West Alabama Women’s Center), they are unnecessary.
Doctors performing abortions must be licensed for admitting privileges at a hospital within thirty miles of the clinic. The filmmaker counters this with interview commentary that only 1% of abortions result in complications that require hospitalization. HB2, the Trap Laws passed in Texas, require abortion clinics to meet the same standards as hospital-like ambulatory surgical centers, which range from minimum sizes for rooms and doorways to the number of nurses required to be on duty. The filmmaker shows the extent to which the Texas Whole Woman’s Health clinic and other Texas clinics must be outfitted as an ambulatory surgical unit. Marva Sadler comments that it is the same set up as an operating room for open heart surgery. In the case of abortions, there is no surgery, there is no cutting. Indeed, colonoscopies and liposuction which are performed as outpatient procedures (abortion clinics used to offer outpatient services), carry much greater risk for complications than abortions. Two experienced doctors in the film, Dr. Willie Parker and Dr. Louis Payne, affirm abortions are safe to be performed in outpatient clinics.
The impact of the new restrictions indicates the hidden political intentions behind their mandate. The burdensome regulations have forced the closure of over half of all the clinics in the South. The upgrades are too costly for the healthcare facilities to implement and in particular instances require complete building restructuring to create an ambulatory surgical unit fit for open heart surgery patients, illogical for abortion clients.
And so it goes. Clinic closures have placed a tremendous burden on those few clinics that are still open. There are waiting lists for appointments for initial doctors’ visits let alone follow-up scheduling until the final day when the abortion will take place, an abortion which is usually a nonsurgical procedure. Time becomes a crucial element that adds to the pressure experienced by the clinic which attempts to accommodate, and the woman who is waiting to be cared for. Sometimes, it is too late and the woman is sent home, subject to the viable fetus restriction (20 weeks).
Porter provides testimony of various clients and their stories. Again and again we empathize with their heartfelt cases. The women fortunate to live in a city where a few clinics are open are able to get initial appointments and go through the follow-ups required with fewer demands on their wallet and their time. For those women who cannot afford to travel 500 miles to a clinic and spend money in a motel for the the initial doctor’s visit and follow-ups, there is no reasonable option. Oftentimes, they cannot take off work to travel to doctor’s visits. Cost is a factor. Only those of means who live in areas where clinics have closed can fly to California, as one woman was able to do, go to an outpatient clinic, and return within a day because she was not forced to wait, schedule additional visits, and go through a lengthy period of time in her home state to receive care.
Allowing her subjects to speak for themselves in a straightforward style succinctly edited and developed to promote a clear understanding of the issues, Porter lays out the Republican conservative strategy to ban abortion under the guise of protecting women and keeping them safe. The strategy reveals a heartless lack of concern for women’s health. Dr. Willie Parker emphasizes this when he explains that no research was done to canvas doctors about how to insure safety during an abortion. Parker, a Christian who attends church and whose love and empathy compels him to advocate for women who have no where else to go (one 13-year-old in the film had been gang raped and was seeking an abortion), “tells it like it is” when he says, “Politics trumps medicine.”
Again and again the filmmaker reinforces that the reasons why laws like HB2 in Texas and other equivalent laws in Mississippi and Alabama have nothing to do with safety issues. She provides salient clips of conservative judges (Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore), and congressmen stating that they are working to ban abortion to be reelected. Such conservative congressmen and those who hold elected positions have placed Roe v Wade on a fast track to abrogation.
The 1973 law established women’s reproductive rights and affirmed the constitution’s due process clause that states could not interfere with a woman’s choice to obtain an abortion, as a right of privacy. These rights were challenged by states to no avail until Planned Parenthood v Casey (1992), which allowed for state restrictions in clinics as long as there was no undue burden on women. In Porter’s interview with Nancy Northrup from Center for Reproductive Rights, Northrup comments that after Casey the challenges increased. In the last three years there have been more cases combined than there were since Roe (1973). Currently, HB2 restrictions are being challenged before the Supreme Court and should be decided by the summer of 2016.
The issue about restricting women’s healthcare choices is about affirming a conservative power structure and little more. Porter looks behind the scenes showing footage of a floor fight led by Texas Democratic District 10 Senator Wendy Davis. Davis was in a 11-13 hour filibuster in the Texas legislature supported and cheered on by scores of women in the gallery above. A sea of white male congressmen frowned and glared at her and her constituents from the floor of the chamber. The symbolism Porter reveals is not lost as the women above are the outsiders who want to maintain control of their reproductive rights while the men of power stand in the seat of power denying women as part of a broader conservative agenda.
It is a breathtaking moment in the film when the director captures the triumph of Davis and her supporters who succeeded in delaying passage of Senate Bill 5. But the conservatives had their way. Two days later Republican governor Rick Perry in an emergency session approved HB2 and shortly afterward, over half of the state’s women’s healthcare clinics closed. The worst had happened and the South was one step closer to overturning Roe v Wade.
Texas initially lost 14 clinics out of 36 due to HB2’s admitting privileges requirement, leaving 22. In other words, only 61% of the clinics survived round 1 of restrictions. As of June 9, 2015, the Fifth Circuit upheld the constitutionality of HB2 except as applied to Whole Woman’s Health McAllen. As of March 2016 19 Texas clinics remain of the more than 40 that were open before HB 2 passed. The only cities that have clinics now are Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Houston, and McAllen. The tragedy is that women are now being denied affordable health care, reproductive counseling, birth control, check-ups, and many other medical services. Abortions are less than 2% of women’s reproductive healthcare services.
The fallout from Trap Laws is being felt in 23 states thus far with the undue burden of the restrictions and closures being experienced by poor and lower middle class women, an outgrowth of economic and racial discrimination. As Porter alludes, it is a strategic thrust by conservatives with the help of unwitting religious constituents from the lower classes. Politicos intend to use these blindsided religious folks to empower the Republican party and insure that wealthy backers receive favorable legislation to increase their power and augment corporate profitability.
Porter’s documentary is a vital must see. It shows how Trap Laws have abrogated constitutional guarantees for women. This is not about love and concern for life. It is about a conservative consolidation of power to shrink democracy and increase the wealth of the economically advantaged, especially against the underclasses who could outvote them if galvanized. The irony is that those who can least afford the wealthy gaining more power and wealth are the ones preyed upon and manipulated to give up their rights, which sadly sustains their impoverishment. The Republican conservatives’ use of women’s reproductive rights as a stratagem to achieve power is Porter’s crowing achievement in her film.