Friday marked the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. And just weeks from now, the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in a case that could gut it. The case is called Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole. It challenges anti-choice restrictions passed by the Texas state Legislature in 2013, despite a people’s filibuster and a 13-hour stand by Texas State Senator Wendy Davis. Since the law passed, about half of the more than 40 abortion clinics in Texas have closed. If the court allows it to go into full effect, Texas could be left with about 10 abortion clinics. And it’s not just Texas that’s at stake. Since 2010, state legislatures across the country have enacted more than 280 restrictions on abortion. We are joined by two guests: Dawn Porter, director of the new documentary Trapped, which looks at how abortion providers in Alabama and Texas are fighting to care for their patients despite state restrictions aimed at shutting them down, and Nancy Northup, head of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is arguing Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Friday marked the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. And just weeks from now, the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in a case that could gut Roe v. Wade. The case is called Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole. It challenges anti-choice restrictions passed by the Texas state Legislature in 2013, despite a people’s filibuster and a 13-hour stand by Texas State Senator Wendy Davis. Since the law passed, about half of the more than 40 abortion clinics in Texas have closed. If the court allows it to go into full effect, Texas could be left with about 10 clinics. And it’s not just Texas that’s at stake. Since 2010, state legislatures across the country have enacted more than 280 restrictions on abortion.
But what do all of these numbers really mean? Well, a new documentary that just had its world premiere here at the Sundance Film Festival goes beyond the numbers to look at how abortion providers in Texas and Alabama are fighting to care for their patients despite state restrictions aimed at shutting them down. This is a trailer for Trapped.
PATIENT: I got a pregnancy test. And I called a best friend, and I just cried, like “I’m pregnant.”
NURSE: Be encouraged. Be encouraged. Don’t let it destroy you.
JUNE AYERS: Sixty percent of the patients that I see are below poverty level. If abortion care collapses in Alabama because of the new legislation that’s out there, it would be disastrous.
NANCY NORTHUP: In the past three years, there have been over 300 restrictions passed.
STEPHANIE TOTI: Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, North Dakota, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Alabama, Mississippi.
JUNE AYERS: We have to be compliant with whatever they’re asking us to do. You know, a lot of this doesn’t make a lot of sense.
DR. WILLIE PARKER: How wide your halls are, how many bathrooms you have.
MARVA SADLER: The drugs always expire, because we never use them.
JUNE AYERS: We’re looking, all total, probably at $35,000 worth of work.
NANCY NORTHUP: Every time the Legislature meets, there’s another restriction.
DIANE DERZIS: First we had to have a transfer agreement with a hospital, so we got that. Then they passed the – every doctor had to have admitting privileges, and that’s the one that we just couldn’t meet.
UNIDENTIFIED: We had to actually close down the practice entirely.
RACHEL MADDOW: Those new regulations that are set to reduce Texas to a state where there are only six clinics for the whole state, where there’s one reproductive health clinic per every 2.2 million women in the state.
STEPHANIE TOTI: It’s increasingly becoming the case that women’s constitutional rights are determined by their zip codes.
AMY HAGSTROM MILLER: There’s really no clinics in West Texas anymore at all.
DR. WILLIE PARKER: If there’s no clinic, if there’s no doctor, it doesn’t matter if abortion is legal or not.
MARVA SADLER: Like Roe v. Wade doesn’t even matter anymore.
AMY HAGSTROM MILLER: We’re seeing women self-induce with medications. We’re seeing women actually consciously induce violence physically to try to induce a miscarriage.
UNIDENTIFIED: I remember getting a call from a patient. She said, “I can’t get to San Antonio. So, what if I tell you what I have in my kitchen cabinet, and you tell me what I could do?”
DIANE DERZIS: Prior to Roe v. Wade, women were willing to risk their lives to terminate a pregnancy. They’re still willing to do that. Women have to have access to abortion.
DR. WILLIE PARKER: I’m Dr. Parker, one of two doctors who flies into Mississippi to provide abortion care for women. There are no doctors in Mississippi who will provide care. As you know, it’s a very hostile environment. My decision to go there was based on the fact, if nobody else will go, who’s going to go?
GOV. PHIL BRYANT: Today you see the first step in a movement, I believe, to do what we campaigned on: to say we’re going to try to end abortion in Mississippi.
DR. WILLIE PARKER: You might try to do so, but you should understand it’s not going to happen without a fight.
UNIDENTIFIED: We are going to continue to stand up for women, you know, standing next to each other and fighting for what’s right.
NANCY NORTHUP: It is not right that women should have to go to court to get the medical services that the Constitution guarantees them.
In the United States right now, there are over three dozen cases on access to abortion services going through the courts.
DIANE DERZIS: People don’t realize, you know, we’re going to continue to see these rights lost.
JUNE AYERS: Today it felt like somebody moved us back off the edge of a cliff.
NANCY NORTHUP: The Supreme Court is going to hear another one of these cases. It’s going to be a showdown.
DIANE DERZIS: Women should be in the streets on this.
ANTI–CHOICE ACTIVIST: The pro-life side has won. We’ve already won.
AMY HAGSTROM MILLER: I just want more people to start asking who’s benefiting from this.
NURSE: Father God, in the name of Jesus, Father God, give her peace, God. These and our blessings, the blessing your son, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the trailer – that’s the trailer for Trapped, which just had its world premiere last night here at the Sundance Film Festival.
We’re joined now by the film’s director, Dawn Porter, whose past films include Gideon’s Army, about public defenders in the South. And we’re joined by one the subjects of Trapped, Nancy Northup, head of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is arguing Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, the Supreme Court case that could reshape abortion access in the United States.
Nancy, I want to begin with you. Explain this Supreme Court decision that will be argued in March.
NANCY NORTHUP: So the issue before the Supreme Court on March 2nd is going to be whether Texas and these other states can pass pretextual laws that –
AMY GOODMAN: What does that mean?
NANCY NORTHUP: Well, that means laws that pretend to be about women’s health and safety – that’s what Texas has said, this is just a health and safety law – but in fact it’s been enacted to have the effect that it has had, which is to shut down clinics in the state of Texas. As you pointed out in your opening, half the clinics in Texas have already closed. And women are having to drive long distances. Some can’t get access at all. So what we want the Supreme Court to say is that that is an undue burden and that it is, you know, not constitutional for the state of Texas to try to do by the back door what they can’t do by the front. They can’t ban abortion, and they can’t take this runaround to try to do it in another way.
AMY GOODMAN: What is the runaround? What are the restrictions that are most often put on these clinics?
NANCY NORTHUP: Well, there are unnecessary – they’re unnecessary medical adjustment. So, they say they have to be mini hospitals, for example, when in fact you can do abortions safely in an outpatient facility in the first trimester. They say that the doctors have to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The important thing to know is that the American Medical Association and other leading medical associations have come into this case to tell the Supreme Court these are unnecessary health regulations, and in fact they’re going to harm women’s health, because they’re not going to be able to get access to abortion.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain what Whole Woman’s Health is, the case that is the basis of this argument.
NANCY NORTHUP: Well, it’s a case about the fact that Texas passed this law, that these laws are unconstitutional.
AMY GOODMAN: But the clinic itself?
NANCY NORTHUP: Oh, the clinic itself, yes. Well, Whole Woman’s Health has run clinics throughout the state of Texas. And particularly there are clinics at issue here in the Rio Grande Valley, in McAllen, Texas, which serves a very poor population in that area. It also has had clinics in Austin, in San Antonio, in Fort Worth. And there are other clinics in the state of Texas, as well, that will be covered by this lawsuit. But what’s important to know, it’s not just Texas. What the Supreme Court does on March 2nd in the argument and then when they finally decide in June is going to affect throughout the United States the kind of restrictions that have been passed in recent years.
AMY GOODMAN: Dawn Porter, you’re a lawyer?
DAWN PORTER: I am, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And you did Gideon’s Army. That’s how we first met.
DAWN PORTER: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Amazing documentary about public legal defenders in the South. Why this story? Then you went on to Spies [of] Mississippi.
DAWN PORTER: I have varied interests. I was shooting for Spies of Mississippi, I was doing interviews there in Jackson, and I read that there was only one clinic left in the entire state. And as a person who is pro-choice and who feels like – you know, I feel like I’m politically aware, I had no idea about the attacks on abortion clinics across America. And I found Dr. Willie Parker. I found these clinic owners willing to let me spend time with them. And I thought – I had no idea at the time that the case would end up before the Supreme Court. But so the timing of the film is really fantastic. I’m glad that it amplifies the legal restrictions that Nancy is speaking of. It’s a complicated issue. It’s complicated to explain to people why regulations that feel on their face as if they’re reasonable are actually intended to shut down clinics. And as the center argues, you know, the question before the court is whether that’s constitutional.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to a break, and when we come back, Dawn, you’re going to be joined by two healthcare providers, the owner of one of the only independent abortion clinics in Alabama, and we’re going to be speaking with Dr. Willie Parker. He is an abortion provider at the only, the last surviving abortion clinic in the entire state of Mississippi. Stay with us.