Abortion in America: Dawn Porter’s ‘Trapped’

This article was first posted at Bitch Flicks and is cross posted with permission. 

After watching Trapped, I felt incredibly lucky. I felt incredibly lucky that I live in the U.K., a country in which abortion is free, legal, and unrestricted. If I need to have an abortion, I can make an appointment at my local doctor’s surgery or go to a walk-in clinic and (by law) I have to be provided with the procedure within two weeks of my initial appointment. I do not have to undergo an ultrasound. My doctor is not legally obligated to give me any literature on how “unsafe” the abortion procedure is. I almost certainly will not have to walk past hordes of religious protesters outside of the clinic.

It bothers me a lot that I would consider this to be lucky. This should be the norm. Though I thought I understood the struggle between right-wing governors and politicians in states like Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi, watching Trapped made me realize I knew very little at all. It also made me realize just how much I take for granted in my own country — and how the things I take for granted should be the standard for women across the globe.

There is no shortage of documentaries about the constant fight to restrict abortion laws in the U.S., nor is there a lack of reporting around the subject. After Tiller, No Woman No Cry, 12th and Delaware, are just a few documentaries that have been produced on the subject in the last few years. Abortion is a hot topic issue, dividing political parties and voters alike. Every politician is expected to have an opinion on it; so indeed, are the electorate. There are only two sides of the coin in the issue of abortion: pro-choice or pro-life (or more accurately anti-choice). At least, that’s what the media would have us believe. Trapped not only explores the battle between the left and the right — reproductive justice and anti-abortion — but it gives another perspective on the fight. It speaks directly to, and platforms, those who work in the abortion clinics. It tells their stories — from doctors and nurses to clinic owners and administrative staff — the people who are affected daily by the constantly changing laws surrounding abortion.

This is a perspective I had never really given much thought to.

Many of us are familiar with the narrative of abortion clinics being closed down, and consequently people being physically unable to get an abortion, due to the distance needed to travel to the closest clinic, the inability to take time off work for repeat appointments, the expensive costs (which rise due to the further along a person is in their pregnancy), etc. The perspectives many of us are unfamiliar with are the brave abortion providers, lawyers, and clinic workers who fight every single day to try and give (and protect) medical care to the people who need abortions, and the people most often impacted by lack of abortion access: women of color and poor women. This is the narrative that Dawn Porter provides as the backbone to Trapped, and it’s astonishing.

By weaving these different stories together, Porter gives us an image of abortion legislation that we may previously not have seen. Restricting a person’s right to have an abortion by closing the nearest clinic, or insisting on four appointments before the procedure can occur are vicious attacks on all people who need abortions: women, trans men, genderqueer, and non-binary individuals. These are calculated moves designed not just to ensure that women have no power or choice regarding their own bodies and lives, but also to ensure that women explicitly know that they have no power or choice. Abortion restrictions (laws such as HB2) are quite simply modern misogyny in action, masquerading as “medical legislation.”

We meet several abortion providers and clinic workers, including Doctor Dalton Johnson, who has moved to the south to use his skills where they are needed most. He owns the (now) only abortion clinic in Northern Alabama, and works daily to provide treatment to people across the state. He talks at length about the various hoops he and his staff have to jump through every week to ensure that they comply with the barrage of legislation continually being passed, all with the goal of closing clinics.

Marva Sadler, director of clinical services at Whole Women’s Health, discusses the unreasonable requirements for clinics and how they impede abortion access: “Because of these laws, many clinics have a two to three week waiting list for a procedure where time is of the essence.”

Dr. Willie Parker flies from Chicago to Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi to provide abortions; he’s one of only two doctors who perform abortions in Mississippi. He said that he travels because “nobody else would go.” Dr. Parker talks about the danger that abortion providers continually face: “People have been killed doing this work.”

June Ayers, owner of a clinic in Montgomery, Alabama, provides a little (much needed) comedy within the film. Ayers introduces us to the religious preachers who protest her clinic relentlessly, and her tactic of switching the sprinklers on if she feels “the grass is getting a bit too dry out there.” In a film with such a devastating subject, Ayers and her staff provide us with humanity and humor — and remind us all that these are the people at the heart of this legal battleground.

It would have been very easy to focus the documentary solely on the horror stories from the people who live in these states and have little to no access to reproductive health clinics. Their stories are emotive and relatable, and an easy way to make a shocking documentary. Instead of focusing solely on right wing Republicans and repeating well-known narratives, Porter incorporates messages of hope into Trapped. She includes Senator Wendy Davis’ 11-hour filibuster to try and prevent the passage of SB5, an oppressive “omnibus anti-abortion access bill.” Sadly, she succeeded in only delaying it by a few days but nevertheless, Porter champions Davis’ valiant actions and for a few moments, we can feel hopeful for the future.

Ayers, Dalton, Parker, and the other clinic workers, as well as lawyers like Nancy Northup (President and CEO of The Center for Reproductive Rights) are a part of this hopeful narrative that Porter subtly constructs. Of course there is often little to be optimistic about, as we see very clearly, but everyone pushes onward. There is a small glimmer of light in knowing that there are people out there fighting this legislation and advocating for reproductive rights. As Ayers says, “The function of the bill is not to regulate us. It is to regulate us out of business. It is a trap.” That’s why these abortion restrictions are called TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws; they are not created with the intent of making abortion safer (as it is already a safe, routine medical procedure), but to eradicate abortion altogether. The attitudes of the (mostly) male (mostly) Republicans are entrenched in misogyny under the guise of religious scripture. It’s disturbing and scary to listen to them talk about who has the right to a woman’s body (hint: it’s never the woman herself). Porter takes great care to ensure that Trapped doesn’t just show fear-mongering and hate, but reminds us that there are people out there fighting for basic human rights.

Though a difficult subject, Porter’s documentary is strangely uplifting. We have a long way to go, but it’s clear from watching Trapped, that we’ve also come a very, very long way.

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