Documentary "Trapped" Looks Ahead to Upcoming Supreme Court Case
By Aria Bracci | Wednesday, March 30, 2016
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
About 50 attendees gathered in Room S140 in the Integrative Learning Center on the evening of March 23, intently absorbing the documentary Trapped. The stadium seating curved around the projector screen, resembling the arched roof of the Capitol Building on the movie’s poster; it fit the dominantly political tone of the film, which documents the contemporary struggles of Southern reproductive health centers.
This documentary by Dawn Porter tells the stories of several Southern abortion clinics, fewer in number than ever due to Texas House Bill 2 (HB2), which was enacted in 2013 and enforced a lengthy list of regulations tailored specifically to these clinics. True to the film’s name, these regulations are referred to as “trap laws.”
One doctor, Willie Parker, works in both Alabama and Mississippi, the latter of which has only one open clinic remaining. Under one of the trap laws, he was required to secure admitting privileges from a local hospital, but since abortions are such safe procedures when administered properly, he ultimately would not admit enough patients to meet quota and would therefore lose such privileges.
Another provider and mother of six, Marva Sadler, described the following regulations that her clinic must adhere to: procedures performed in ambulatory surgical centers (which are comparable to facilities for open-heart surgery, even though abortion is not surgical) wall or curtain separations for every patient bed, faculty lockers, no free-standing oxygen machines, and monthly stocked medication, which is consistently unused and disposed of—a detrimental expense.
Sadler is the director of Whole Woman’s Health in Fort Worth, Texas, one of only six clinics in a state that, prior to the passing of HB2, boasted 44. In a similar situation is June Ayers, who owns a clinic in Montgomery, Alabama, a state where now only five doctors are accredited to perform abortions. Ayers revealed that in attempting to complete the proper paperwork for facility compliances, she is often referred to document sections that don’t exist and has therefore been out of work—and the clinic out of service—for months.
It is tricks like these, the film illustrated, that result in the innumerable clinic closures nationwide. However, also depicted was the role of the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), a legal action group that, in 2014, filed a lawsuit in opposition to these practices (Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt). The group is representing five Texas clinics to argue that HB2 causes an “undue burden” for women. The state of Texas appealed the claim, and CRR appealed to the Supreme Court, which has since accepted the case for hearing in November 2015 and is expected to release a decision in June 2016.
The film also featured footage of the 1973 Roe v. Wade case, in which anti-abortion laws in 46 states were ruled unconstitutional. These were juxtaposed with more recent, state-level reversals of this ruling by conservative and religious leaders across the country (ex: Governor Rick Perry, Operation Save America).
Following the viewing, Legal Studies Professor Jamie Rowan and Political Science Professor Diane Curtis conducted a live Skype conversation with Amy Myrick of the Center for Reproductive Rights, who answered questions about the current court case, bringing the film to life. “The current case is a really big deal in abortion law,” she explained, since the Supreme Court hasn’t heard an abortion case since 2007, and never one that challenged such laws as HB2. UMass History Professors Jennifer Nye and Julio Capó were also in attendance.
Audience members voiced resounding outrage against the distanced anti-abortion legislation, since, as the film demonstrated, it is often propelled by wealthy and/or religious demonstrators, not the low-income women of reproductive age that these clinics serve to assist. Curtis also highlighted the issue of statistics, since it’s impossible to document the vast—and ever-growing—number of people who are unable to receive procedures because of the laws depicted in the film,. “How do we find those women?” she asked. “How do we count them? It’s not clear.”
Students also questioned the definition of “undue burden” as well as the future of the national law, speculating what will come of the Supreme Court decision, which is due for decision mere months in the future. Before the film had begun, however, Professor Curtis had mentioned the film’s focus on national-level legislation. She prefaced the audience’s viewing by arguing that addressing local- and state-level government is equally—and, in some cases, more—important than relying on the highest courts, which are selective and therefore historically inaccessible. Moving forward, and in combination with the film, the audience was able to take away innumerable perceptions of a new age of accessibility and equality.