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TRAPping Access to Safe, Legal Abortions

ColumnJanuary 28, 2016All Column ⟶
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By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan

PARK CITY, Utah — This week, a Houston grand jury returned a surprise indictment. It was tasked with investigating videos that purported to expose Planned Parenthood for selling the body parts of aborted fetuses. The grand jury found no wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood, but instead charged the video producers David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt from the anti-abortion group The Center for Medical Progress, with tampering with a government record, a felony.

Meanwhile, another video was released this week, this one an accurate depiction of the threat to women’s reproductive rights around the country. “TRAPPED” is a moving documentary that premiered Sunday night at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. It demonstrates how access to safe, legal abortions has come under assault in the U.S., as state after state passes restrictive “TRAP” laws, or “Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers.” These laws, which have proliferated since the Tea-Party sweep of state legislatures in 2010, purport to protect the health of women, but actually result in the closure of women’s health clinics. The film is being released nationally as a woman’s right to choose faces a crucial challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court on March 2.

Dawn Porter is the award-winning filmmaker who wrote, directed and produced “TRAPPED.” While in Mississippi shooting an earlier film, she learned that the state had only one remaining clinic where abortions were available. She went there to meet Dr. Willie Parker, an obstetrician/gynecologist.

Appearing on “Democracy Now!” early in the morning after the premiere of “TRAPPED,” Dr. Parker told me: “I’ve been an OB-GYN for 21 years, a doctor for 25. And when it became clear to me ... 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.”

The film follows Dr. Parker and several other abortion providers in Alabama, where TRAP laws have been passed that mandate onerous changes to clinics where abortions are provided. Most of these laws are based on model legislation drafted by an anti-choice group called Americans United for Life. They force safe, legally functioning abortion service providers to make costly and unnecessary improvements to their facilities. In scores of cases, the clinics cannot afford to make the changes, and have to shut down.

In one scene of the film “TRAPPED,” Dr. Parker is shown with a patient. He is relaying to her information that is required by Alabama’s TRAP law:

“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.”

In Texas, the TRAP law, known as HB2, passed in 2013. Before HB2 became law, there were 40 operating abortion clinics in Texas. Only 19 remain. A San Antonio clinic filed a lawsuit opposing HB2’s restrictions. That case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (formerly v. Cole), will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on March 2, with a decision expected by June.

The doctored videos that were created to take down Planned Parenthood failed in their goal; their creators face years in prison. While “TRAPPED” will be airing in June on the PBS documentary series “Independent Lens,” it also will be shown in movie theaters, with concurrent community screenings. Dawn Porter hopes her latest film will engage, persuade and mobilize people across the country as this critical health-care issue is decided by the Supreme Court.


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