TRAP Laws: Slowly Chipping Away at Abortion Access

Repeal TRAP laws nowThis week marks the third anniversary of the decision in Planned Parenthood Southeast, Inc. v. Strange, a lawsuit that challenged HB 57. This bill, passed by Alabama’s state legislature, required every physician who performs an abortion at a clinic to have staff privileges at a local hospital. Planned Parenthood clinics in Birmingham and Mobile, as well as providers at Reproductive Health Services in Montgomery, would have been unable to obtain hospital staff privileges for various reasons, including a hospital board’s opposition to abortion, requirements that doctors admit between 12 and 48 patients a year to retain staff privileges, and stipulations that the physicians live within a certain radius of the hospital. (Ridiculous, right?)

Luckily, on August 4, 2014, a federal court blocked the requirement that abortion providers obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals — a victory for reproductive rights, but just one small battle in the larger war against abortion access in the United States.

We will not let our state laws be templates for other anti-choice legislation.

Bills like HB 57 are called Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers laws. TRAP laws selectively focus on medical facilities that provide abortions to make it more difficult for reproductive health care providers to offer abortion services to their patients. In a nutshell, TRAP laws segregate abortion from regular medical procedures, discourage doctors from providing abortion services because of the tedious requirements to do so, and dramatically increase the cost of obtaining an abortion.

Many state legislatures pass these restrictions by arguing that abortion is a risky medical procedure. However, according to the Guttmacher Institute, “abortion is one of the safest surgical procedures for women in the United States. Fewer than 0.05% of women obtaining abortions experience a complication.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights explains that:

These excessive and unnecessary government regulations — an ever-growing trend among state legislatures — increase the cost and scarcity of abortion services, harming women’s health and inhibiting their reproductive choices. These laws jeopardize women’s access to safe, legal, high-quality reproductive health care and represent a backdoor attempt by politicians to end legal abortion access. They are typically enacted based on the false pretext of protecting women’s health and safety, but have a clear ulterior motive of making it more difficult to provide abortion services and thus more difficult for women to obtain such services.

Arizona has been a testing ground for outrageous abortion restrictions. As of April 2, 2017, the Arizona Legislature has passed the following abortion access restriction laws:

  • A patient must receive state-directed counseling, including information designed to discourage them from having an abortion. The counseling cannot be provided over the phone, and patients must then wait 24 hours before the procedure is provided. Since the counseling must be provided in person, and must take place before the waiting period begins, patients must take two trips to the facility. This is especially difficult for people who live outside of Maricopa or Pima counties, since the only facility that provides abortion in rural communities is in Flagstaff.
  • Health plans offered in the state’s health exchange under the Affordable Care Act can only cover abortion if the patient’s life is endangered, or their health is severely compromised.
  • Abortion is covered in insurance policies for public employees, but only in cases where the patient’s life is endangered, or their health is severely compromised.
  • Despite the fact that multiple studies have proved that taking abortion pills at home with the help of telephone conferences with a licensed physician is safe, the use of telemedicine to administer medication abortion is prohibited. Again, this restriction impacts women in rural communities the most, since a trip to an abortion provider can be a two- or three-hour drive.
  • The parent of a minor must consent before an abortion is provided.
  • Patients must undergo an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion, and must do so at least 24 hours before the abortion; the provider must offer them the option to view the image.

These laws have substantially decreased the number of abortion clinics in the state of Arizona. According to the Guttmacher Institute’s research:

  • In 2014, there were 12 abortion-providing facilities in Arizona, nine of which were clinics. Compared to 2011, when there were 17 abortion providers and 15 clinics, that’s a 29 percent decline in overall providers, and a 40 percent decline in clinics.
  • In 2014, 80 percent of Arizona counties had no abortion-providing facilities, and 19 percent of Arizona women lived in those counties.

Last year, the Supreme Court delivered a decision regarding a 2013 bill passed by the Texas Legislature, which would have imposed abortion access restrictions that would have been similar to those in Arizona. Although the Texas bill was overturned by a 5-3 majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the only Supreme Court judge to adamantly oppose abortion restrictions. Ginsburg argued that “it is beyond rational belief that H. B. 2 could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law ‘would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions’ … Laws like H. B. 2 that ‘do little or nothing for health, but rather strew impediments to abortion’ … cannot survive judicial inspection.”

It’s time to stand up for choice. We have to tell our state representatives that Arizona is not a chemistry lab, and we will not let our laws be templates for other anti-choice politicians. Get vocal, and act local.