An American documentary about clinics in Alabama and Texas reveals the incredible bureaucracy and politics that prevent minors, rape victims and women with an unwanted pregnancy from legally obtaining an abortion
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The latest uproar triggered by the Trump administration, surrounding the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, has nearly completely overshadowed the outcry over the executive order denying federal funding to organizations that provide millions of disadvantaged women around the world with information and access to contraception and to safe abortions. Vice-President Mike Pence also hastened to appear at the annual Pro-Life march on Washington, becoming the most senior politician to ever attend this event since it was first held in 1973.
A new documentary entitled “Trapped,” which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and is now available for viewing on Amazon’s streaming site, YouTube and other sites, is mandatory viewing for anyone who played down, ignored or supported the executive order intended to freeze funding for organizations that provide information on family planning or work to change local laws banning abortion.
The film, made by American director Dawn Porter, focuses on a number of women’s health clinics in Alabama and Texas that have been in constant danger of closing due to a lack of funding, changing legislation and threats from Christian pro-life activists who believe in the sanctity of the fetus’ life.
Behind the TRAP
Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1973, in the famous Roe v. Wade decision, that laws that completely ban abortion are unconstitutional, in recent years, conservative Christian legislators in southern states have gotten more than 200 bills passed that prohibit abortions or significantly limit doctors’ ability to legally perform abortions. These laws are referred to by the acronym TRAP (Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers), as their aim is to drastically reduce women’s access to clinics that can legally perform abortions.
As a result of hundreds of such regulations, and an ongoing bureaucratic assault, in 2014, the year during which the movie was filmed, there were just three private clinics for women in all of Alabama, and just five doctors with the proper license and training to perform abortions. Since similar private clinics are continuously closing down for lack of funding or due to threats on workers’ lives, the three Alabama clinics also have to treat thousands of women from other states, including Louisiana and Georgia, and sometimes Florida.
This impossible load only worsened after then-Texas Governor Rick Perry signed legislation in 2011 and 2012 restricting abortion. Consequently, the number of women’s health clinics in Texas plunged from 46 to just six, in less than two years. The first part of the film follows the legal battle waged by Perry and his supporters to pass a law known as HB2 that would revoke the license to perform abortions from women’s clinics that lack special operating rooms that meet the highest hospital standards. In December 2011, the Republican governor made waves when he declared that he was firmly opposed to abortion even in cases of rape or incest. He subsequently said that, in his view, the only circumstance that justified abortion was if the pregnancy definitely endangered the mother’s life. Throughout his time as governor (which ended in 2015), Perry repeatedly proclaimed that his goal was to “make abortions a thing of the past.”
The fetus' attorney
While “Trapped” focuses on the legal battle between abortion opponents and pro-choice supporters, the film does not aspire to neutrality. Porter also presents the chilling stories of women who are forced to fight for their right to choose versus an establishment that purports to speak on behalf of their fetuses or unborn children. The utter ludicrousness of the TRAP laws is made plain in a scene involving an underage girl who gets pregnant but is afraid to tell her conservative parents. While she cannot obtain an abortion without a parent’s written consent, the law allows for her to seek special permission from the court. However, as soon as the case moves from the clinic to the courtroom, the state has the right to appoint an attorney to represent the fetus – so that the girl can potentially lose the legal case to the fetus inside her.
Other hard-to-watch scenes include an interview with a mother of two. One of her children is severely autistic. The woman says, “I don’t want to have another child when I know that I don’t have the financial or emotional resources to raise him and I won’t be able to give him all that he deserves.” Then there is 13-year-old girl at an Alabama clinic who was gang-raped by three men and is now 12 weeks pregnant.
New regulations in Texas require a woman who wants to obtain an abortion to see the same doctor at least four times before the procedure can be approved. Given the tremendous burden on the few clinics that are still open, this translates into endless waiting lists, with women forced to wait many weeks for an appointment. And as soon as their pregnancy is past the first trimester, it becomes even more complicated bureaucratically, and the medical risks increase as well. In order to try to meet the demand, the doctors at the only clinic still operating in Mississippi have to see 60-80 patients a week.
The movie makes the case that, due to this wave of conservative legislation, over the last few years more than 200,000 women in Texas have resorted to attempting illegal abortions, either at home or at unlicensed clinics.
Porter’s film concludes on a seemingly optimistic note: In November 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted an appeal that caused HB2 to be overturned, signaling that the TRAP laws are unconstitutional. Still, it’s impossible to watch “Trapped” just days after President Trump’s new executive order without feeling furious and depressed and wary of what may be in store. The women whom Porter interviews are facing an impossible situation in which they are trying to do the right thing, but find themselves forced to contend with a legal, financial and political system that seeks to subordinate their desires, needs and decisions to religious principles.
A death sentence for some
The film’s extensive coverage of protests against abortion clinics, with protesters shouting things like “God loves you – and your baby” while they brandish pictures of dead fetuses, is traumatic and hard to stomach. But for a better understanding of the real meaning of the executive order that targets international organizations meant to help women, one should take a good look at these images, and listen closely to these women. After all, this is about their bodies, not the bodies of the men who surrounded the new president as he signed a death sentence for countless women who will try to have an abortion any way they can, even if the government tries to stop them.