#Crucial21DbW: Trapped directed by Dawn Porter


Dawn Porter’s documentary, Trapped (2016) examines the personal cost to women’s lives as a result of 250 laws passed since 2010, that restrict access to abortion at the state level. I had to pause while viewing the film to let the tears roll as I read that an estimated “240,000 people in Texas have tried to end a pregnancy by themselves without medical assistance.” With the camera in close up on her steady hands, one anonymous woman explains, “People are going to find a way…”

Trapped unemotionally describes the legal standing of abortion rights in the United States today. And the fight is real, despite the January 22nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made it unconstitutional for states to restrict abortion. Yet Trapped lays bare the ways that legislatures in Alabama, Mississippi and Texas are doing just that. By passing Targeted Regulations on Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws that require private clinics to meet rigorous and costly standards reserved for ambulatory surgical care facilities, they are forcing clinics to close. Yet, as Dr. Willie Parker, one of three abortion providers in the state with the required hospital admitting privileges, puts it, “These rules don’t add anything to the safety of women.”

While occasionally highlighting some of the patients, the film’s focus remains on the expertise of the clinic workers who manage their daily workload amid the bureaucratic challenges they face.

These are the heroes on the frontlines of the fight for women’s access to abortion. Marva Sadler, a clinic director, describes having to turn away a 13-year old rape victim because the required anesthetist isn’t available. This, in a state that saw 44 clinics reduced to six due to HB2, the law filibustered by Texas’ Wendy Davis that ultimately passed anyway.

Despite these closures, the film ends on a positive note, with the news that the Supreme Court will hear Whole Women’s Health challenge these TRAP laws, stating that they pose an undue burden to women’s constitutional right. What the clinic workers don’t know, is that they will win that case on June 27, 2016. For now, all they know is the clinic will stay open today.

Trapped is available for purchase and streaming on multiple platforms, and aired on PBS series Independent Lens in June 2016. Follow the film on Facebook and Twitter, and its director Dawn Porter on Facebook, Twitter and at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.