TRAPPED screened as a part of the U.S. Documentary category at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. For more information, head here.
Trapped is many things technically—well-edited, informative without being overwhelming, personal, beautifully paced—but most importantly it’s infuriating. It’s rage-inducing. Because what Trapped shows us is that while it is still technically a woman’s right to choose, government regulations that specifically target abortion clinics are making the choice for women.
Director Dawn Porter spent two years at abortion clinics in the southern United States. There weren’t that many to visit because they’re all being shut down. The entire state of Mississippi has one abortion clinic. Alabama is down to five, maybe four soon. After new legislation was passed in Texas, their clinic numbers dropped from the eighties down to six.
“How is this happening?” you may be asking yourself (probably with a lot more swearing, though). They’re called T.R.A.P. laws: Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers. See, abortion isn’t illegal. No, of course not, because that would be wrong and go against what women fought for and what the supreme court ruled in the ’70s with Roe v. Wade. Abortions are legal, but clinics can’t be within so many yards of a school. Abortions are legal, but doctors at abortion clinics have to meet ambulatory/surgical regulations (meaning you could also perform open heart surgery in some abortion clinics), which means tens of thousands of dollars of equipment that never gets used and medications that expire and have to be replaced, only to expire again. Abortions are legal, but clinic doctors have to jump through impossible hoops to be allowed to practice. So what’s the point even of Roe v. Wade if there’s nowhere to even get an abortion?
Trapped spends time with a handful of clinic owners and doctors throughout the southern states. We meet June Ayers, who owns one of the few remaining clinics in Alabama; Dr Willie Parker, who moved from Chicago to work in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia but is unable to see patients at some clinics due to restrictions; and Amy Hagstrom Miller, who runs a chain of clinics in Texas called Whole Woman’s Health that are all under threat of being shut down due to legislation being passed in Texas.
We’re also introduced to some patients, which helps to remind us why the doctors and clinic owners are doing all of this. But Trapped is really about the clinics—the owners who are spending their life savings making sure their buildings are up to code, the doctors who are risking their lives so we can actually make a choice. This documentary is about them because despite all of the risks and the impossible regulations and restrictions, they haven’t given up.
Porter does an amazing job balancing information with heart, facts with tears, and despair with hope. We see a few clinics gain small victories throughout the doc, but the biggest victory is for Whole Woman’s Health. With the help of the Center for Reproductive Rights, Whole Woman’s Health took their fight against the Texas legislation to the Supreme Court and it was recently accepted.
Basically, Trapped is essential viewing, period, and an important, impactful part of a conversation we need to be having before it’s too late. Now, it hasn’t escaped me that Cinefilles is based in Canada, where we are lucky to actually have a real choice. But as women who do have that choice, we need to support those who don’t. Because God forbid we ever know what it feels like to have to drive 500+ miles to an abortion clinic only to be turned away because of some ridiculous, bureaucratic red-tape. And that may sound overly dramatic, but it is the cold, harsh reality for women living in many states. Support comes in many ways, but one of the easiest things to do is to share our stories. Abortion may be legal in many countries, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t taboo and that women who chose to get one—who make a private decision about their own bodies—aren’t judged and ostracized. And the more we share our stories, these clinic’s stories, Trapped‘s story, the better we can hope to shift public perspective.
I had an abortion and I was able to make that choice safely with the help of an abortion clinic and I want the same choice for women everywhere. It’s my right. It’s their right. It’s our right.
Siân Melton is covering Sundance for us live from Park City, Utah. Read about her other work, including her Toronto-based film series The MUFF Society, below.