Dawn Porter on Why She Made 'TRAPPED,' a Documentary on U.S. Abortion Rights

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Thirty percent of American women will have an abortion in their lifetime. Nearly half of these women live at or below the federal poverty line, and they're four times more likely to be women of color. Startling statistics like these are why I'm making the documentary TRAPPED.

My film examines the political fight and human stories of Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers—or "TRAP laws"—that are now in place in more than half of the country. These regulations limit or eliminate access to reproductive healthcare services and disproportionately affect poor women and women of color. The laws are specifically designed to hinder the constitutionally protected rights of millions of politically underrepresented Americans.

Like other filmmakers, I hope my documentaries speak truth to power. I desire to tell untold stories and expose the human struggles that result when constitutional guarantees of freedom get snarled in political posturing. The great irony of TRAP laws is that they are often passed under the guise of protecting women.

The attorney general of Mississippi, for example, said his state enacted TRAP laws because of "reports of death and injuries involving abortion facilities" raising "doubt as to the safety of women." Yet according to the Centers for Disease Control abortions are very safe medical procedures. In fact, the risk of death from childbirth is 14 times greater than the risk of death from an abortion.

Instead of helping protect women, TRAP laws hurt them by restricting access to safe reproductive care. By closing all or most of a state's reproductive health clinics (Mississippi has just one remaining facility and new legislation in Texas will leave one clinic for every 1.8 million of its female residents), TRAP legislation forces many women to travel great distances to get the healthcare they need. During my shoots, I've learned, firsthand, how distance is an especially punitive consequence for impoverished women, who are also disproportionately women of color.

I've spent the last two years in abortion clinics across the South, understanding just what the political fight around TRAP laws is like on the ground. I've met doctors, nurses, clinic owners and staff—all of them are literally risking their lives so women can make their own, personal choices about reproductive care. TRAP legislation creates a legal catch-22, where the 60 percent of American women living under TRAP laws technically have the right to reproductive healthcare, but may have nowhere to get it. As a direct consequence of TRAP laws, a woman's right to reproductive healthcare is increasingly becoming a right in name only.

In the end, TRAP laws do only one thing: trap American women. This legislative assault on reproductive healthcare rights—and consequently on poor women and women of color—must stop.

Dawn Porter is a filmmaker, attorney, and founder of Trilogy Films, who is using Kickstarter to help complete production on her new film TRAPPED. Her directorial debut, Gideon’s Army, focused on public defenders working in the Deep South. The film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival where it won the award for Best Editing, and later was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and Emmy ®.


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