Fuse Film Review: “Trapped” — Our Bodies, Our Clinics

When it comes to women’s reproductive rights it is looking an awful lot like The Handmaid’s Tale out there, folks.

Trapped, directed by Dawn Porter. At the Kendall Square Cinema.


By Peg Aloi

Remember when representative Wendy Davis, standing tall in bright orange running shoes, led a filibuster in the Texas State House to prevent the passing of legislation that would close down women’s health centers that provided abortion services? With moments to spare, her efforts shut down that vote. Millions watched as the live-video feed went viral close to midnight. Davis became a hero around the world.

But within a few days, those woman-hating Texas lawmakers managed to push through their Draconian laws, and women’s reproductive rights were stripped closer to the bone. These efforts continue. Anti-abortion lobbyists have managed to have laws passed in a number of states requiring outrageous conditions to be fulfilled, conditions that have nothing to do with improving healthcare and everything to do with making it close to impossible for women to obtain abortion services: services that are completely legal. Since Roe Vs. Wade is still on the books, the powerful “pro-life” lobby works tirelessly to enact loopholes whose effect is to force women to give birth against their will. Yeah, it’s looking an awful lot like The Handmaid’s Tale out there, folks.

Just this week a landmark Supreme Court case (Whole Women’s Health vs John Hellerstedt) is challenging a Texas bill known as HB2 (the nondescript labeling of such laws is one of a number of tactics used by anti-abortion lobbyists to draw attention away from attempts to shutter abortion clinics), that severely restricts a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion. The new documentary Trapped by Dawn Porter is a timely counterpoint to this legal decision.

Trapped looks closely at this phenomenon unfolding across the United States, and particularly in the states of Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama. The number of clinics providing abortion services has been reduced considerably in recent years in the wake of legislation aimed at preventing abortions. Following one doctor who provides services in three different states, as well as several clinic owners struggling to provide care for women amidst frustrating conditions, Porter paints a picture of a society that could provide fodder for a speculative fiction anthology. Shots of picturesque city streets are juxtaposed with screaming anti-choice protesters who walk the sidewalks in front of clinics all day long, shouting at anyone who enters (one clinic uses an adjustable lawn sprinkler to “water the grass” as needed).

Some of these protesters target the medical personnel with racist taunts (“how can you kill your own people?” shouts one of them), and others hold up huge posters with graphic, blood-filled imagery. But these incidents are not the most painful for the providers: those occur when they simply cannot help women who are desperate. In one case, a teenage girl who has been gang-raped and is forced to travel hundreds of miles to the nearest clinic is turned away because the combined legal constraints (including the need for a judge to approve stacks of paperwork) prove too great. The clinic administrator fights tears as she acknowledges that this traumatized teen has basically just been “forced to give birth,” and she also acknowledges that many women are seeking alternative means when a legal abortion proves unobtainable.

Although Trapped ends on a positive note — one of several ongoing legal obstacles is overcome — the sense that the providers of abortion services are facing an uphill battle pervades the film. The mercenary tactics of the anti-abortion lobby are providing powerful assistance to the rising tide of political control that seeks to deny women their basic reproductive rights.

Interestingly, a short documentary film about a young woman who visits an abortion clinic and decides against having an abortion is also in the news this week, and is also entitled “Trapped.” This kind of misleading media bait and switch is typical for the movement, which has lured countless young women into bogus “pregnancy crisis centers” via advertising that promises a “solution” to their problems. Planned Parenthood was recently targeted with a vicious campaign using falsified videotape “evidence” that, even though it has been thoroughly debunked, is still referred to frequently within the anti-choice movement. Porter’s thoughtful visit to the frontlines of this battle serves up much-needed breaths of fresh air in a toxic media environment that minimizes women’s struggle for legal healthcare.

Peg Aloi is a former film critic for The Boston Phoenix. She has taught film studies for a number of years at Emerson College and is currently teaching media studies at SUNY New Paltz. Her reviews have appeared in Art New England and Cinefantastique Online, and she writes a media blog for Patheos.com called The Witching Hour.

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