TRAPPED: Health Centres Surviving Despite The War on Women


I am fortunate in that, especially lately, I have been sent several screeners of upcoming new releases. Many of these are of the documentary variety, which – along with foreign films –  is one of my favourite mediums. You can find documentaries on just about any topic, and the creators are often gracious with their time and are always up for a chat on my podcast.

One such tale is “Trapped” by Dawn Porter. The title comes from actual law in the US “TRAP” which is an acronym for “Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers”. Yes, this film deals with the attacks on abortion and women’s health initiative. Since the introduction of TRAP laws, hundreds of women’s health centres have closed, the majority in southern states that are largely geared towards low-income minorities. In fact, there are just six clinics left in the entire state of Texas.

The film chronicles three clinics – in Alabama and Texas – and their struggle to survive in spite of several hundreds of pages of rules and regulations. It is at times tough to watch, mainly because the treatment of the centres and the women who visit them is so horrendous. Outside every building there is always a small group of protestors (one clinic has one man that shouts bible verses every day) who yell everything from the doctors being baby-killers to un-christian. A very interesting exchange concerns an elderly lady screaming at Dr. Willie, who is black, that “Black Lives Matter”, “All Lives Matter”. Inside, Dr. Willie is conducting a prayer meeting with his staff. Although I am not a religious by any stretch of the imagination, I particularly enjoyed that part of the film and it shows that there is at least some common ground between the clinic staff and the protestors.

But, as Porter explains, this is not just a film about abortion and reproductive rights; it is a film about politics. Currently, there are several legal challenges working their way through the courts, and today, the eight-person Supreme Court is hearing arguments about Texas HB2, the most infamous of all the anti-abortion, anti-women bills. Many experts think that Scalia’s death might actually work in favour of the pro-choice movement. Alito, Roberts and Thomas will almost certainly vote in favour of keeping the bill, while Sotamayor, Kagan, Ginsburg and Breyer will vote to repeal it. As is often the case, that leaves Justice Anthony Kennedy as the man to watch and on social issues he has proven to be quite the liberal.

But irrespective of how SCOTUS rules, the film carries so much more importance, so much more weight than a typical documentary. For me, it outlines exactly what is wrong with the American Healthcare system and the political discourse surrounding it. Most of the discussion surrounds abortion and whether or not it should be legal, when that is only a small percentage of what clinics do (just ask Planned Parenthood). There are counselling services, medication, and many others services that these health workers provide. I say health workers because only doctors can perform abortions, and if the Texas Lawmakers have their way, said doctors will need to have attending privileges at hospitals to be eligible to provide abortions.

Just how restrictive are these laws? Beyond the countless meetings and paperworks that women have to go through, nothing is more emblematic of just how awful the system is then the scene of a health worker crying because she had turn away a 14 year old girl, who became pregnant via gang rape, because their waitlist was full and they did not have the manpower to be able to see her for several weeks. As the next closest clinic was five hours away (this is Texas after all), she admits that they have most likely condemned her to motherhood.

Those who are in favour of a total ban on abortions seem to missing the point. Just because you make abortions illegal, doesn’t mean they won’t happen. Women will have to go the underground, back door route to places that are often unsanitary and have far more adverse health risks. Here in Canada, where abortion has been legal for 30 years, we don’t have that problem. In fact, we have less abortions than the US. Why? Because options are available. Look at any country where abortions are legal; most have lower rates than those where it is illegal. Clearly, the problem is not that legalization will create more abortions. Nor is it a religious one; as pointed out, many health workers have a deep faith. Rather, the problem is old, white, misogynistic men hungry for power who are taking it out on poor people.

But I digress, this was supposed to be a piece about the movie. But then again, you probably already know my feelings about it. It is heart wrenching, heartbreaking. It is passionate, it is powerful. The haters will say it is provocative and propaganda. You know what is propaganda, the numerous lies and untruths that Carly Fiorina spread – her dead “daughter”, and most horrifically her claim that  Planned Parenthood took “a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.” Every single republican candidate has vowed to terminate Planned Parenthood. Even Donald Trump who has acknowledged that he knows plenty of women who have been helped by it, wants to shut it down because he claims he is pro-life. I could go on and on about his record on that.. but I won’t.

I’ll simply close by saying that Trapped is a fantastic movie that needs to be seen, deserves to be seen, by liberals and conservatives alike. By Christians and the non-religious. By the pro-choice and pro-life sides. Above all, it is a film that will educate. And that, sometimes, is the greatest gift art can offer.

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