- Dawn Porterdirector of Trapped, which had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Her past films include Gideon’s Army and Spies of Mississippi.
- Willie Parkeran abortion provider and longtime physician. For years, he has traveled to clinics in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi to provide abortion care.
- June Ayersowner and director of Reproductive Health Services in Montgomery, Alabama—one of the few remaining abortion clinics in the state.
As the Supreme Court prepares to hear a landmark abortion case that could gut Roe v. Wade, we look at a startling new documentary, “Trapped.” The film addresses TRAP laws—Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers—and their impact on abortion providers in the South. We are joined by the film’s director, Dawn Porter, as well as two of its subjects: Dr. Willie Parker of Jackson Women’s Health, the last abortion clinic in Mississippi, and June Ayers, owner and director of Reproductive Health Services in Montgomery, Alabama, one of the few remaining abortion clinics in the state.
AMY GOODMAN: We broadcast from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, returning to our conversation about the new film Trapped, which just premiered here at Sundance. It looks at the impact of anti-choice laws on abortion providers in the South. In this clip from Trapped, Dr. Willie Parker counsels a patient at the last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi.
DR. WILLIE PARKER: We have information that the state has compiled in this packet of extra things, other things, information, that you can know that might help you with your decision. You can take this, if you want, but you don’t have to. But I’m obligated by law to offer it to you. I’m required by law to tell you that by having an abortion, it can increase your risk for breast cancer. There is no scientific evidence to support that. Now, the state requires me to tell you that if you were having this procedure, there is the risk of complications. I think that’s a good thing to know, the risk. The state requires me to tell you that you can have heavy bleeding that can be life-threatening, and it could require you to be transferred to the hospital and need a blood transfusion. If you’re having a bleeding that can only be controlled with removing your uterus, you’d have to have a hysterectomy, and you’d lose your ability to have babies in the future. Those are all the risks associated, but guess what. Those are the exact same risks that’s associated with having a baby. It is to say that you’re not taking any extra health risk. So abortion is extremely safe.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Dr. Willie Parker counseling a patient at Jackson’s Women’s Health, the last abortion clinic in Mississippi. In this clip from the film, June Ayers, the owner and director of one of the last remaining independent abortion clinics in her state, in Alabama, sits in her kitchen poring over a packet of regulations.
JUNE AYERS: It says emergency lighting shall be provided in accordance with Section 7.9. And there is no 7.9. It’s like trying to work your own crossword puzzle. I work crossword puzzles very, very well. I just don’t do it when you have to make your own puzzle up. And that’s basically what this seems to be asking me to do, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. But, you know, a lot of this doesn’t make a lot of sense.
AMY GOODMAN: That was June Ayers from the new documentary Trapped, which had its world premiere here at the Sundance Film Festival last night. Well, June Ayers and Dr. Willie Parker join us now, and we’re joined by the film’s director, Dawn Porter. Dawn, why did you make this film?
DAWN PORTER: I found it so shocking that laws, that couldn’t do directly, couldn’t—you couldn’t ban abortion in America, but that across the country laws were closing clinics at such an alarming rate. I also was just so struck by the dedication of these clinic providers. They take their—you know, they risk their health and their safety to protect rights for all women. But there’s a particular impact on low-income women and women of color in abortion clinics. And these two providers and the other providers in Alabama are serving such an underserved population, and I felt like it was a story that hadn’t been explored in depth.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Willie Parker, you haven’t always provided abortions. You’re an OB-GYN. But talk about your own history.
DR. WILLIE PARKER: Well, someone said, when—to know is to become responsible. I’ve been an OB-GYN for 21 years, a doctor for 25. And when it became clear to me, in the scope of my work, that one in three women need abortion care in their reproductive lives and that disproportionately poor women and women of color were not having those services, it became important to me to guarantee access to these very important health services by moving back to my hometown in Birmingham and to provide services in the South. I am a person of color, I grew up in poverty, and I know what it means when these services aren’t available. So it made it important for me to prioritize these services for women in the South.
AMY GOODMAN: So you travel throughout the South. You go to Mississippi.
DR. WILLIE PARKER: Correct.
AMY GOODMAN: How is there only one clinic there? How many were there?
DR. WILLIE PARKER: I don’t know the actual access history of Mississippi. I’ve only been going there since 2012. But I’m told that as of the early '80s, there were as many as 15 clinics in Mississippi. And it was pretty much an attrition. People who courageously founded clinics and provided services, over time, as the regulations changed, as the hostility ramped up, they decided that it wasn't worth it for them. And so we ended up with one clinic left and one courageous owner making sure services remain available in that state.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, one of the regulations, these TRAP regulations—and again, Dawn, TRAP stands for?
DAWN PORTER: It’s Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers.
AMY GOODMAN: TRAP—is doctors should have admitting privileges at the local hospital. You’re a doctor. What’s wrong with that? It sounds extremely reasonable. Women would want to know that their doctors—they see it as a kind of credential.
DR. WILLIE PARKER: Well, it passes the commonsense test, but it’s not—it doesn’t pass the muster with regard to the informed reality of how medicine works. First of all, in an emergent situation, you will be taken to any hospital, the nearest one that’s available, so whether the doctor has privileges there or not doesn’t matter. But more importantly, abortion is so extremely safe that the likelihood of needing to manage any complication related to abortion is extremely low. So, again, it passes the commonsense test and allows people who use these regulations to control access to abortion to gain public sentiment, but it’s really unnecessary.
AMY GOODMAN: And if a doctor travels, goes from one clinic to another and is out of state, they wouldn’t have admitting privileges at a particular local hospital?
DR. WILLIE PARKER: Well, you can get privileges. I would be eligible for privileges if I wasn’t doing abortions and if I were based in Mississippi.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, if you weren’t doing abortions?
DR. WILLIE PARKER: Well, the targeted regulations of requiring doctors to have admitting privileges if they do abortions—the primary service that I provide in Mississippi is abortion care. So if I were not doing abortions and I were doing ambulatory care, there would be other doctors who would be willing to affiliate with me. I could have a freestanding practice. So, it is the fact that I provide specifically abortion care—where some hospitals have as a mission: If abortion care is what you provide, you’re not eligible for admitting privileges at my institution.
AMY GOODMAN: Dawn?
DAWN PORTER: Which shows you that the regulations, the state law, requires the physician to have admitting privileges. Dr. Parker applied to every hospital within the appropriate area, and they all denied access. So you see it’s this crazy catch-22. These are laws that you cannot comply with, and that’s the runaround around the Constitution.
AMY GOODMAN: June Ayers, tell us your story. How did you come to own an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Alabama?
JUNE AYERS: I’m in Montgomery.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean Montgomery.
JUNE AYERS: And—
AMY GOODMAN: In the town of Rosa Parks.
JUNE AYERS: In the town of Rosa Parks. I started 37 years ago. And my clinic is the oldest independent provider of abortions in the state. And it was something that I felt like I needed to do. It’s why I get up in the morning—patient care, helping women. And in—
AMY GOODMAN: You were born in Birmingham?
JUNE AYERS: I was born in Birmingham, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And your own personal experience with the issue of abortion?
JUNE AYERS: When I was in high school, which was 1973—I graduated from high school in '73. In December of that year, I was pregnant. And it's something I’ve never forgotten, because I had a choice, and I exercised my right to have an abortion. If I had been pregnant 12 years before that, I wouldn’t have had—excuse me, 12 months before that, before Roe came along in January, I would have not had a choice. And I think, like a lot of other women, I would have been in a situation where I would have felt very desperate not to have that choice. So, that’s one of the things that motivates me, that my doors need to stay open so that women have a safe place to come, have somebody that cares about them and somebody that will help them through this crisis.
AMY GOODMAN: How difficult is it for you to keep this clinic open, with the TRAP laws? How does it affect you financially and otherwise?
JUNE AYERS: It’s certainly overwhelming financially, and it has been for all three of the independent providers in Alabama, just trying to pull together the pieces of any of the legislation and then actually make it come to fruition in the clinic. One of the things I talk about is that I have a closet door, literally a closet door, that costs $2,500 that had to be installed.
AMY GOODMAN: Why?
JUNE AYERS: And it’s those—because that was part of the regulation that came down.
AMY GOODMAN: Dawn?
DAWN PORTER: The states are giving, with incredible specificity, the—you know, June has a particular closet door that she has to install. In Texas, they had to install a negative ventilation pressure system in that clinic. Oxygen has to be in the wall. Medicines, expensive medicines, are required by state statute—medicines that are never used. It’s such an incredible waste of healthcare resources.
AMY GOODMAN: June Ayers, talk about the blue packet of state-mandated information that you have to give out to patients.
JUNE AYERS: We have to give out two booklets. One is a white resource directory, which is a very good book. But the blue “Did You Know?” booklet is—has information that’s misinformation in it. Initially, it did have that abortion causes breast cancer. We finally did get that removed, but it took a court case to get that removed. And it shows pregnancy two weeks—from two weeks to 40 weeks. And for me, I look at it as something very coercive to the patient. It is meant for the patient. They say—we get back to the semantics here—that it’s there for the patient’s information, and it’s there to help her know, you know, what direction she wants to go in. And I see it more as a punitive booklet.
AMY GOODMAN: June, you work in Montgomery. The chief justice of Alabama is Roy Moore, recently—most recently in the headlines around gay and [inaudible]—
JUNE AYERS: [inaudible] And he swings very much to the religious right. When they were—when I had a siege in Montgomery last summer, he actually spoke at their gathering. And we had several anti-abortion groups that came to Montgomery. More than 250 of them were parked across the street from the office and were obviously trying to prevent us from doing procedures, from getting patients in, from getting physicians in. And it’s very intimidating. And he is supporting them, and not only just supporting them, but, you know, is being a spokesman for them, too.
DAWN PORTER: Chief Justice Moore is also the past president—his wife is now the president—of an organization that funds anti-choice protesters, that pays their legal fees. So you have a situation where the chief justice, the administrative head, of the courts in Alabama, the courts where a minor is required to get judicial permission in order to have an abortion, so the man that leads the courts that will make those determinations is solidly anti-choice, and not only supports, you know, with his presence, but also funds anti-choice activists.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Willie Parker, researchers at the University of Texas, Austin, recently found as many as 240,000 women—that’s a quarter of a million women almost—had performed self-induced abortions in Texas over the past, what, five years. How dangerous is that?
DR. WILLIE PARKER: Well, we know abortion, when it is done in a medical setting under the guidance of healthcare providers on an evidence basis, is extremely safe for women. But women are desperate. And so, when they don’t have access to safe abortion care, they take desperate measures. The fact that women will resort to the same desperate measures that they did pre-Roe just confirms that when a woman is determined not to be pregnant, there’s no law, there’s no ability to shame, that will prevent her from trying to accomplish her goal of not being pregnant.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your grandmother, your maternal grandmother, Dr. Parker.
DR. WILLIE PARKER: My mother, her mother died when she was four years old. She was 37 years old and had recently given birth less than a year prior, and hemorrhaged to death trying to give birth to what would have been her eighth child. So, it’s in the back of my mind that I know what the extreme outcomes of women not having access to safe abortion care or even safe prenatal care mean.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re introduced to you in Dawn Porter’s film Trapped when you’re getting out of a car walking into a clinic. A man is screaming at you through a fence. He’s smoking a cigarette, and he’s saying you pretend to be a Christian and that you kill your own race. Do you face this all the time?
DR. WILLIE PARKER: Sadly, yes. But I’m undeterred by it. I don’t take it personally, because I know it’s really not about me. It’s about intimidating me or harassing me so that I will not be available for women. It’s also to double down on the moral high ground by trying to impugn my sense of Christian identity, because the people who are most opposed to abortion on the basis of their religious understanding assume that those of us who provide this care don’t have a moral basis or even a religious understanding. So, I choose not to take it personally, and understand that it is more strategic. But it makes it all the more important that I, as a person of color, provide this care, as well as as a person of faith.
DAWN PORTER: I take it extremely personally.
AMY GOODMAN: Why, Dawn?
DAWN PORTER: I’m not as—I’m not as forgiving as Dr. Parker.
AMY GOODMAN: Were you afraid when you were filming?
DAWN PORTER: You know, it is frightening, the things people yell at you. I think you see an increasing effort for anti-choice activists to inject race and to try and intimidate. There’s a protester who yells “Black lives matter!” They’re holding signs of black babies. It intimidates not only the patients, but also providers who are not minority providers, who are accused of committing black genocide. You know, so the effort to inject race into the conversation around abortion is in increasing frequency.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you concerned for your own life, Dr. Parker?
DR. WILLIE PARKER: Well, I have commonsense concern. I look both ways before crossing the street. But I choose to focus on what I’m doing. If I think too much about the risk, then I will be intimidated like anyone else. But I don’t spend a lot of time—I know what I live for, and I don’t spend time worrying about what other people might try and do for me—do to me.
AMY GOODMAN: June Ayers, can you talk about your daughter’s reaction to the film, Trapped?
JUNE AYERS: We had—I had the opportunity to view the film earlier, and I invited my daughter to watch it with me. And when the film was over—and my daughter—I have been with the clinic 37 years. My daughter is 24. So she grew up in the—knowing what I do and in the clinic. And when it was over, she turned and looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “Mother, I just never understood exactly how all this impacts” not only me, but my patients and Dr. Parker and—because the film is very impactful. But it does—it does affect me and my family on a day-to-day basis. But it was an eye-opening film for even somebody who’s been sitting there watching, you know, for her whole life.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you ever think of just closing the clinic?
JUNE AYERS: No.
AMY GOODMAN: Why?
JUNE AYERS: No. It terrifies me to think that I would shut my doors and that the next person that knocked on them wouldn’t going to be able to come through.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Dr. Willie Parker, ever think of going back to not performing abortions?
DR. WILLIE PARKER: You can’t put Pandora back in a box. This feels—it’s, for me, for one of the first times in my life, my values, my chosen craft and my skills all come together. And so, this work is extremely meaningful for me. So I couldn’t imagine not doing it.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you imagine not having made this film, having not—known very little, you say, about this issue in this country, though you are a lawyer, you’re a filmmaker, you work on civil rights issues?
DAWN PORTER: You know, once you meet people like June Ayers, like Dr. Parker, I couldn’t—I couldn’t step away from this story. I feel like it’s actually one of the most important civil rights conversations that we should be having. And I hope that everyone who is sitting on the sidelines actually exercises their political opinion.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Dawn Porter, I want to ask you to stay with us. We’re going to play a virtual reality piece called Across the Line, but then I want to talk to you about OscarsSoWhite, about the fact that no actor of color was nominated for an Oscar—Sundance is a kind of feeder into the Oscars—and what you think needs to be done to change Hollywood—well, maybe overall, to change the culture. Dr. Willie Parker and June Ayers, thank you so much for joining us. We’ll continue to follow you as you try to keep women’s access to healthcare, women’s access to abortion, open in the United States.
JUNE AYERS: Thank you for having us.
AMY GOODMAN: The film is called Trapped. It had its world premiere here at the Sundance Film Festival. Stay with us.