TRAP Laws: Slowly Chipping Away at Abortion Access

This 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.” Continue reading

Stenberg v. Carhart: “Partial Birth” (NOT)

Dr. Leroy Carhart

Dr. Leroy Carhart sued Nebraska for outlawing a specific late-term abortion procedure, and won.

Seventeen years ago today — June 28, 2000 — the Supreme Court struck down a Nebraska law banning “partial birth abortion,” which the letter of the law described as “an abortion procedure in which the person performing the abortion partially delivers vaginally a living unborn child before killing the unborn child and completing the delivery.” *

Pause here a moment.

Is there any doubt in your mind that these words, quoted from the statute, were chosen by lawmakers to sound like infanticide, the killing of a baby between birth and one year? Are you horrified yet? Read on.

By a 5-4 ruling, the majority struck down the law in Stenberg v. Carhartsaying Nebraska’s ban was unconstitutionally vague and lacked a needed exception allowing the procedure to be used to protect the health of the pregnant mother. What? Huh? Infanticide is OK with the Supremes? How could that be? (Dissenting justices used the word infanticide 13 times in their dissents.)


Instead of outlawing abortion in one fell swoop, opponents are going after it one procedure at a time, stigmatizing lifesaving care in the process.


First, what banned procedure are we talking about? In 1992, Dr. Martin Haskell developed the “D&X” procedure, intact dilation and extraction (the medically appropriate name), calling it “a quick, surgical outpatient method” for late second-trimester and early third-trimester abortions. Outpatient is a key word here because the patient does not require an expensive, overnight hospital stay and, as we know, many hospitals do not allow any abortion procedures at all. Dr. Carhart, a surgeon and retired U.S. Air Force colonel, wanted to, and ultimately did, adopt this technique in his medical practice as the best and safest abortion option for some women.

As I read through all 107 pages of the court’s opinion, written by Justice Stephen Breyer and including three concurring opinions and four dissents, what struck me was one basic fact: The Nebraska law prohibited previability abortions** in which a fetus had a zero percent chance of ever being born — no matter what procedure medical professionals used. At that point in its development, the fetus could not survive outside the uterus. The Nebraska law that the Supreme Court struck down, then, had been a tool to demonize and criminalize physicians who decided the best interest of the woman was served by a procedure defined in the medical literature as “intact dilation and extraction,” and by anti-abortion politicians and agitators as “partial birth abortion.” Continue reading

The Handmaid’s Tale: Dystopian Fiction or a Blueprint for the Future?

Photo: Fiona

When Hulu announced Margaret Atwood’s dystopian classic The Handmaid’s Tale was being adapted for a TV series, so many people involved refused to call it a feminist story — even though the entire plot centers on a society that has stripped every right away from women. The book’s female characters are forced to take the name of the man who possesses them, changing it as they are passed between men. Their worth is based solely on their ability to produce children, having been turned into “hosts,” or breeding units for the elite. And if you think that terminology originated in Atwood’s head, you’d be wrong — that term wasn’t from the book or show. It was from Rep. Justin Humphrey of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, just last February.


If they can take away our agency over our bodies, the rest doesn’t matter.


Ms. Atwood has stated that nothing in the book is new. Every degradation, every dehumanization is something that has happened, or is currently happening, to women somewhere in the world. And many people were quick to point to the parallels between the dystopian society painted by Atwood decades ago and the vision of a society idealized by many of our most conservative lawmakers.

Case in point: The Republican Administration recently signed an executive order allowing states to deny funding to Planned Parenthood, which will make it difficult for many low-income women to access contraception — an invaluable tool in asserting control over one’s fertility and destiny. (Vice President Pence should have known better; after all, his home state of Indiana is still fighting one of the worst outbreaks of HIV in decades, which was caused in part by defunding a major provider of HIV testing and treatment.) And attacks on access to contraception are just the tip of the iceberg.

But still, this was not really something I was going to write about, until late last month when I was listening to NPR. They talked to a young woman who stated that if Planned Parenthood would “just stop giving abortions,” then they could keep their funding. Although she liked the health care that Planned Parenthood provided, she wondered, “at what cost?

I am going to tell you the cost of not having access to the services Planned Parenthood provides — including contraception, screening for domestic violence, and, yes, abortion. Continue reading

Abortion: 1 in 3 Speakout

Here we stood, a score of women at the U.S. Capitol, there to share our personal abortion stories privately with lawmakers and online with the public on March 21, 2017. We were storytellers in the fifth annual “1 in 3 Speakout: Stories from the Resistance.” Our goal — to put a human face on abortion; said in another less ladylike way, to get in our representatives’ grills. We were all darned tired of being characterized by ignorant anti-abortion advocates as shadowy, irresponsible, hypothetical women.

“Hey, talk to us,” we demand of our lawmakers. “We’re real people.”

First, we took our rally to the Capitol steps. Just as crowds began to gather, no doubt curious about our megaphone and pointing to our “I HAD AN ABORTION” and “I STAND WITH 1 IN 3” signs, we were shooed away by police to the more distant location shown in the above photo. We had been in the path of — you guessed it — President Trump’s motorcade. He was making his last-gasp attempts to salvage the Republican bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare. How appropriate to see, just days later, his plan aborted. Continue reading

Women’s Marches: Signs of the Times

Two marches took place in January 2017, one seeking to give and protect lots of individual rights, the other hellbent to take one of them away.

Guess which one I marched in.

I made my waterproof signs, fretted that rain and wind might dampen participation, and trekked downtown to join the first of these on January 21, the Women’s March on Washington, Tucson version. I was amazed and delighted that 14,999 of my closest friends had turned out as well, a friendly bunch of folks dedicated to a huge assortment of issues besides support for Planned Parenthood (LGBTQ, health care/ACA, environment, immigration, abortion, contraception, women …). When I got home, I looked online and turned on the TV to find the astonishing crowd scenes worldwide and our new president pouting like a 5-year-old about crowd size relative to his own inaugural event the previous day. (Have we entered The Twilight Zone yet?)

Anne Hopkins. Photo: Bill Yohey, Tucson marcher

Crowds at the Women’s March on Washington held in cities around the world were friendly and diverse, but fired-up, angry, ribald, bare-breasted, fist-in-the-air, we’ll-show-you sorts of gatherings. (The clever signs alone are reasons to attend these things!)

The following weekend, I surveyed the media reports on the March for Life, the 44th annual event for opponents of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision hoping to get that decision reversed by the Supreme Court. I was struck by the contrast between the two marches. Continue reading

Abortion: What’s Faith Got to Do with It?

sunsetPlenty, actually. Whenever I hear a politician claiming he or she is a person of faith, I cringe. All too often it’s followed by the words: “I believe in the sanctity of all life, which is why I’m against abortions and will work to defund Planned Parenthood.”

In one sense, faith is a belief in a supreme being or in a particular religion. Not all religions are opposed to abortion, however. A 2013 Pew Research article reveals a wide range of opinions.

Traditional Judaism, for example, approves abortion as “a means of safeguarding the life and well-being of a mother.” Most of the branches openly support a woman’s right to safe and accessible abortions.


Let’s build bridges across our beliefs, instead of building ideological walls between one another.


Though Buddhism has no official position on abortion, many Buddhists hold the belief that human life begins at conception and that, therefore, abortion is morally wrong. However, in Japan, with a large Buddhist population, abortions are common.

Traditional Hinduism condemns abortion except in cases where the mother’s life is at risk. It follows the general value system “that the correct course of action in any given situation is the one that causes the least harm to those involved.”

Although Islamic scholars disagree over exactly when life begins or when abortion is acceptable, most view terminating a pregnancy after four months — “the point at which, in Islam, a fetus is thought to become a living soul” — as not permissible. Many also believe that, prior to four months, abortions should only be permitted in cases of rape or when the mother’s life is in danger. Continue reading

I Am Woman, Hear me Roar

pp-visor-partial-croppedIn July 1978, I boarded a bus in Cleveland for the overnight trek to Washington, D.C., to join the herd of feminists marching to get the Equal Rights Amendment off the dime. In November 1989, I showed up there again to protest state and federal legislative attempts to undercut a woman’s right to an abortion. Did we send powerful messages? I think so.

Many of you will not remember the early 1970s or Helen Reddy’s feminist anthem “I Am Woman” (“hear me roar … in numbers too big to ignore”), but it strikes me that her lyrics still ring true today.

Just as throngs of protesting American women made waves in the ’70s and ’80s, now masses of women marching elsewhere on the planet are setting an example for us.

Witness what is happening around the world …

Poland "Black Monday" protest. Photo: Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images

Poland “Black Monday” protest. Photo: Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images

Thirty-six hours, that’s how long it took the Polish Parliament to reject a proposed near total ban on abortion last week.

Parliament had, apparently, been “taught humility” by women across the country, who brought the eyes of the world onto the streets of Poland when tens of thousands thronged the streets in a mass strike clad all in black, for their self-styled “Black Monday” protest.

The Government’s swift and grovelling change of heart, was a resounding victory for people power that will go down in the history books.

The New Statesman, October 10, 2016

Continue reading