A new documentary offers an inside view of the fierce battle to protect abortion access in the American South.
“I’m hoping that what we’re seeing right now is the darkest night which will bring the brightest tomorrow,” says clinic owner Gloria Grey with tears in her eyes in the documentary Trapped, a film about the impact of abortion restrictions that will premier next week in select cities across the country.
Grey operates the West Alabama Women’s Center, one of only three clinics in Alabama—all of which are threatened by pending state laws designed specifically to shutter abortion providers. Her clinic was recently forced to close temporarily, stranding hundreds of women without access to safe, legal abortion care in their communities.
Trapped takes a timely, intimate look at the ravaged landscape of abortion care in the U.S. south, particularly in Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas—due to the avalanche of anti-choice restrictions passed in the last six years—by going inside several of the most affected clinics and talking to doctors, administrators, and patients. It is a harrowing portrait: exhausted eyes, tapping feet, clenched hands, fierce hugs, phones ringing off the hook.
While Grey is clearly a diehard optimist, she is not alone. Trapped is peopled by extraordinary figures such as Dr. Willie Parker and clinic owner June Ayers who have dedicated their lives to providing essential reproductive health care to women, sometimes at the expense of their own safety and well being.
The documentary, made by lawyer-turned-filmmaker Dawn Porter and winner of the Special Jury Award for Social Impact Filmmaking at Sundance this year, is set to premier the same week that arguments will be heard at the U.S. Supreme Court in the nation’s latest landmark abortion case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. The clinics, women, and laws at the center of the case feature prominently in Porter’s film.
The work of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents the clinics in the Supreme Court case, also plays a notable role in the documentary as we prepare for the case and fight other state restrictions in courts and legislatures across the country.
“To be at this moment in the United States where something that was so hard won is now up for grabs again—it is indescribable,” says Center president and CEO Nancy Northup in the film. “At the end of the day, constitutional decisions are about all of us. What it means to be human—and to live in a free society—is that each of us gets to make these decisions for ourselves.”
The Texas law currently under review by the Supreme Court is a prime example of the growing trend of restrictions known as TRAP laws—Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers. These laws are responsible for inflicting much of the damage in the South by imposing unwarranted and pretextual restrictions—including ever-changing building regulations and untenable physician contract requirements—that pretend to protect women’s health but are actually designed to regulate abortion providers out of practice. If the Court upholds Texas’ law, even more clinics will be forced to close, and states across the country will be free to enact similar restrictions.
“Fundamentally we have to challenge the mindset that allowed these laws to pass in the first place,” says Whole Woman’s Health clinic owner Amy Hagstrom Miller, a plaintiff in the Supreme Court case and one of the providers featured in Trapped. “And I wonder how long it’s going to take for people to see the outcome of our action, or, more importantly, our inaction.”
Oral arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt will be heard on March 2, and a ruling from the Supreme Court is expected in June. Community groups and reproductive rights advocates are encouraged to organize screenings of the documentary as the country awaits the momentous decision that could shape the abortion rights landscape for generations to come.