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'Trapped' director reflects on 'lasting impression' of stories of women seeking abortion, 'real courage' of providers

June 29, 2016 — In an opinion piece for the Washington Post's "PostEverything," Dawn Porter, director of "Trapped," a documentary about the effects of antiabortion-rights legislation, reflects on her experience "documenting the struggle of the clinics to comply with" targeted regulations of abortion provider (TRAP) laws.

Porter notes that when she first visited an abortion clinic in Mississippi in 2012, she "wasn't aware that abortion clinics across America were struggling to stay open -- fighting a losing battle against laws enacted by anti-choice governments." Upon learning that there was just one clinic operating "in the entire state," she decided to make a documentary focusing on clinics' struggles to remain open in Alabama, Mississippi and Texas. "One of those clinics, Whole Women's Health, brought the case that the Supreme Court ruled on Monday morning, overturning the restrictions there for placing unconstitutional obstacles for women seeking abortions," Porter writes, sharing her positive and emotional reaction upon hearing the news of the ruling.

According to Porter, "Making a film about abortion triggered every emotion possible for me." She recalls hearing stories from women unable to afford to care for another child; "[l]istening to white protesters tell me that as a black woman, I am a disgrace to my race for being pro-choice"; and "[w]alking through lines of angry men shouting at me to repent." The experiences "made me wonder how we got here," Porter writes, adding, "The answer is a coordinated political campaign. And it is one we should study."

Porter writes that state lawmakers, for example, claimed that the Texas law (HB 2), which was based on antiabortion-rights model legislation, "was passed to protect women's health and safety." However, according to Porter, evidence shows that abortion is a very safe medical procedure and that "the far greater danger to women's health was the dramatic closure of abortion clinics."

Porter explains that Whole Women's Health, the only clinic in McAllen, Texas, "shut down twice [under HB 2] before the Supreme Court granted an emergency stay allowing the clinic to resume seeing patients." The clinic's operator told Porter that "she received calls from women desperate for an abortion," including one who "listed the contents in her medicine cabinet, asking if the clinic could tell her how to self-abort." Porter cites a study showing that between 100,000 and 240,000 women in the state have tried to self-induce an abortion.

Porter discusses the "lasting impression" left on her by the stories she heard. She recalls "[t]he women who told me they sold their possessions to afford an abortion; the 11-year-old the clinic suspected was a victim of incest; the 13-year-old who was gang-raped and traveled hundreds of miles for an abortion only to be turned away because the clinic did not have a nurse to put her to sleep during the procedure."

Porter states, "Through it all, the clinic workers continue to field death threats, receive packages with suspicious powders and check under their cars for bombs." She reflects, "I've seen what real courage looks like," pointing to "the abortion providers, doctors, clinic owners and caring and dedicated support staff at clinics across America [who] refuse to give up despite an incredibly hostile environment." She concludes, "Their determination and resilience even in the face of very real danger is something I will always remember" (Porter, "PostEverything," Washington Post, 6/29).