If/When/How Presents Trapped

Camille Mott '18
Guest Columnist

On March 1, If/When/How invited students to view a screening of Trapped, a documentary examining the struggle of Southern abortion clinics in the face of laws attempting to restrict the procedure. The screening was followed by a Q & A with Dahlia Lithwick, senior legal editor for Slate and host of the podcast Amicus. If/When/How’s events coordinator, 3L Lauren Cassady, describes the group as “a pro-choice, pro-information student organization that educates, organizes, and supports law students to ensure that a new generation of advocates will be prepared to protect and expand reproductive rights as basic civil and human rights.” 

The event was the brainchild of 3L Anna Lacerte, who met one of the film’s subjects, reproductive justice advocate Dr. Willie Parker, at Planned Parenthood’s South Atlantic Luncheon in September. “After hearing from Dr. Parker about the TRAP laws and how they are affecting Planned Parenthood, I reached out to Samantha Folb, a member of Charlottesville’s local clinic, regarding the documentary,” she told me. “In speaking with Sam we decided to host a school-wide event at the law school in an effort to bring attention to the troubles Planned Parenthoods across the country are currently facing while highlighting the services they provide to the community.” 

The film focuses on so-called TRAP laws, which “single out the medical practices of doctors who provide abortions and impose on them requirements that are different and more burdensome than those imposed on other medical practices,” according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. At the center of the film are clinics in Alabama, Texas, and Mississippi that have had to choose between closing their doors and spending huge amounts of money to comply with such laws.

One of the featured clinics, Whole Woman’s Health, founded by Charlottesville’s Amy Hagstrom Miller, was forced to close three out of its five clinics in Texas after that state’s TRAP law, known as H.B.2, was enacted in 2013 (the law ultimately resulted in the closure of twenty-one out of Texas’ forty total abortion clinics). Among the law’s most onerous provisions was a requirement that clinics meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers, including extra-wide hallways and sophisticated, expensive equipment; retrofitting an existing clinic to comply with these standards is estimated to cost between $1.5 and $2 million. Another provision required abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within thirty miles of the clinic. Major medical associations such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association contend that such requirements are unnecessary for women’s health and lead to the closing of clinics, forcing women to seek dangerous illegal abortions. 

Despite the struggles faced by the clinics in the film, the pro-choice activists’ happy ending will come as no surprise to court watchers: last year’s Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt struck down the Texas TRAP law as an undue burden on the fundamental right to choose abortion and ruled that states’ claims to restrict abortion in the interest of women’s health must be supported by evidence. Although that decision reduces the threat to abortion access posed by TRAP laws in particular, Cassady notes that the broader issues raised by the film remain relevant. “I think it’s just as important to see it now and talk about the work that reproductive rights activists and lawyers still need to do,” she said. “It’s easy to read Roe and Casey in Con Law and forget that these legal battles are still taking place, so I’m really glad that If/When/How was able to host this screening and educate more law students about the reality of abortion laws in 2017.”

After the screening, Dahlia Lithwick spoke briefly about the current state of reproductive rights and took questions from attendees. She noted that the battle over abortion has shifted from TRAP laws to so-called “personhood” amendments and increasingly stringent bans on abortions after the first trimester. “Ms. Lithwick offered some great points about what state legislatures are still trying to do in order to limit a woman’s constitutional right to abortion access, even after Whole Woman’s Health,” Cassady said. “It was so interesting to hear about where she sees the front lines of the abortion fight moving in the near future.” Lithwick also indicated that although he has not written much about the issue, Neil Gorsuch would likely vote to overturn Roe, as then-candidate Trump promised any Supreme Court nominee of his would do. 

At the end of the evening, representatives of the local Planned Parenthood distributed information on how students can support reproductive rights in the region. They encouraged students to donate to Planned Parenthood South Atlantic at give.ppsat.org, volunteering to support Planned Parenthood at ppaction.org/defender, make health care appointments at the local Planned Parenthood on Hydraulic Road, and call representatives to tell them that students support Planned Parenthood and reproductive choice. For more information, or to make a donation, contact Kate Zirkle at (434) 296-1000 x6641 or kate.zirkle@ppsat.org.