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Film Review


If you were a woman who lived in the South, you would be much more aware of the war against women, in particular the newly energized efforts to make legal abortions very difficult or even impossible. The religious right has always opposed abortion under any circumstances, but in the past five years has focused on passing state laws in most southern states that impose expensive and unnecessary burdens on women's health centers. More than 250 of these TRAP laws (targeted regulation of abortion providers) have been passed in 24 states (principally the Midwest and the South) and many women's health centers have been forced to close. There is now only one abortion provider in the entire state of Mississippi. Texas went from 41 to 18 clinics with none whatsoever in the western half of the state. These TRAP laws require hospital like facilities and physicians with admitting privileges to hospitals. The required facilities include costly full scale surgical suites, which are never used during abortion procedures. The stated intention is to provide safe care, but the real intention (explicitly stated by some legislators) is to financially cripple these clinics. The clinic workers and doctors are under intense pressure to serve a huge population of often desperate women. We are not talking about upper middle class women who could simply catch a flight to either coast for a procedure. Mostly these are poor and working class women, a surprising number of whom already have children. A 300 mile round trip for them to one of the few clinics still open is a big hardship. The TRAP laws usually require multiple visits to the clinic, where normally only one is necessary. One consequence is that the number of self induced abortions in those states has increased enormously, a far greater risk to their health than a medical abortion. Porter estimates that more than 200,000 women have used some form of self abortion as a result. The clinics also must have elaborate security because of the very real threat of violence from anti-abortion activists. A number of clinics have been firebombed and two doctors were shot and killed. The clinic workers and patients often have to endure intimidation by protestors around the clinics. Some areas seem to be returning to the pre Roe v Wade (1973) situation of going to Mexico or back alley abortions. A Texas TRAP bill, HB 2, which caused many Texas clinics to close, has been upheld by a Federal Appeals Court and is headed for the Supreme Court. If the Court's decision is 4 to 4, as expected, HR 2 will continue to be in force until or unless there is a more definitive ruling.

Trapped, a very compelling documentary, which premiered at Sundance this year, has just opened in the Bay Area. Dawn Porter, a documentary film maker (Gideon's Army, 2013) who has worked extensively in the South, wrote, produced and directed this powerful look at three women's health centers in Alabama and Texas. Her film opens with June Ayers, owner of one of the few clinics still open in Alabama, who prepares each morning for the flood of desperate patients. She and the other clinic workers often have to face a gauntlet of protestors screaming "Murders" or "You are no Christian". Dr. Willie Parker, the clinic's only physician, arrives and talks about his experiences and sense of mission. We listen to patients tell their stories or see the clasped hands of very nervous patients. Some of these women are young, some have been raped, but many are mid life women with families. One young women's interview is particularly moving. Another powerful sequence is Texas State Senator Wendy Davis filibustering the original version of HB 2. Notice all the older white legislators (men) ignoring her. Despite jumping to various locations, Porter's film flows smoothly, with segments separated by scrolled commentary, such as the number of clinics open three years ago vs now. It becomes clear that these few clinic owners, these very few doctors and the clinic workers are truly courageous, serving on the front lines of the fight for women's health and rights. Heroes is an often overused word today, but accurate here. The footage of Roy Moore, the infamous Ten Commandments judge (and Alabama's chief justice) is chilling. It is the Inquisition with a modern face. Although Porter has a few interviews with anti-abortion activists, her film is unequivocally strong advocacy for women's rights with many memorable scenes.

Although we all may think we know about the current struggle for women's rights and autonomy, Trapped shows us the reality. This is an important look at a conflict that will not be soon resolved. I was very moved by this fine film, and hope that young women in particular will see it. Playing at the Clay, the Shattuck (Berkeley) and the Rafael (San Rafael). Screening time: 90 minutes.

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