By Sarah Nealon, President’s Office Intern
On June 15th, the Center for Reproductive Rights hosted a viewing of the Documentary Trapped, directed by Dawn Porter, in the Senate Congressional Briefing Rooms. I, along with other NOW interns, was able to attend.
The movie follows several clinic owners and doctors in Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi. In all of these states, abortion providers and clinics are under attack. Over the past few years, state legislatures have been enacting laws that are aimed at blocking abortion access by shutting down clinics that provide abortions. These laws have been dubbed TRAP laws—targeted regulation of abortion providers. They are disguised as simple regulatory laws designed to keep women safe. However, Trapped shows how flawed these laws are.
The regulations are often medically unnecessary, but in order to stay in business, doctors must comply with them. In Mississippi, one doctor– Dr. Willie Parker, physician and abortion provider– had to read a state-mandated script to patients that included untrue statements like “having an abortion will increase your likelihood of getting breast cancer.” He followed up each statement by saying, “there is no medical evidence to support this.” Doctors are required to read untrue statements presented as facts and then must explain to patients that these are unsubstantiated claims. This highlights the inefficiency of many TRAP laws.
Other TRAP laws are not as easily circumvented. Many clinics are forced to close because of laws that require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Other targeted laws force abortion clinics meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers although in performing an abortion clinics don’t need and don’t use the same tools or procedures that are required for major surgery. Trapped follows clinic owner, Gloria Gray. who was forced in 2015 to stop operations in her clinic in Mississippi because she couldn’t pay for the costly upgrades to make her clinic meet these new specifications. She is currently fighting the regulations in court. Other clinics have been impeded by their inability to obtain or maintain admitting privileges, which Trapped explains. One doctor couldn’t get privileges for a variety of reasons: the hospital didn’t want to take on the political stance of supporting abortion, the hospital was religious and wouldn’t support abortion, and the doctor wasn’t admitting enough patients to the hospital to maintain her contract. This last point forces people into an impossible catch-22 because abortions are so safe that patients rarely need to be admitted to hospitals, so abortion providers cannot meet quotas set by hospitals. The situation is so dire that there is currently only one abortion provider in the entire state of Mississippi, who splits his time between two clinics there.
The war on abortion providers is not limited to these three states. Many states across the country, though most are concentrated in the South, are passing TRAP legislation. At the end of the movie, Trapped focuses on a case where some TRAP laws were finally overturned. In Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Supreme Court rolled back some restrictions on abortions, ruling that things like admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical center standards create an undue burden for women seeking abortions.
Trapped reaffirms the importance of the decision in Whole Woman’s Health. The ruling will have far-reaching implications for people seeking abortions across the country, however, the fight isn’t over. Striking down these laws won’t magically open more clinics. The film’s message is clear: TRAP laws impose burdensome regulations on abortion providers, thus making them in fact dangerous to women, because they prevent them from accessing health care they need.
From a film standpoint, the Trapped is wonderfully made. Dawn Porter, the director, clearly explains the issue of TRAP laws so that anyone who watches can leave the film fully informed. The film has garnered much attention in the pro-choice movement because it shows the real people who are affected by TRAP laws. If you want to watch Trapped you can find out more information here.