The Most Serious Threat To Abortion Access In North Dakota Might Surprise You

On Tuesday afternoon, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) signed into law three different abortion restrictions — HB 1305, HB 1456, and SB 2305 — that women’s health advocates say will effectively ban abortion in the state. The extreme legislation that has received the most media attention is HB 1456, an unconstitutional “fetal heartbeat” ban that would outlaw abortions after just six weeks of pregnancy, before many women even realize they’re pregnant. But when it comes to the new laws’ concrete effect on the lives of women in North Dakota, a lesser-known piece of legislation may actually pose an even bigger threat to reproductive rights.

North Dakota women will feel the immediate impact of SB 2305, which indirectly targets abortion access by over-regulating abortion providers — a popular anti-choice tactic known as the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP. Abortion opponents push TRAP laws with the ultimate goal of forcing abortion clinics to close their doors.

TRAP laws are cleverly framed in terms of ensuring women’s safety, but they’re actually incredibly effective methods of cutting off access to reproductive care at health clinics. That’s why Tammi Kromenaker, the director of North Dakota’s last remaining abortion clinic, told RH Reality Check that SB 2305 could actually represent the most serious threat to women’s abortion services in the state:

“We definitely see the TRAP bill as the one that will end abortion in the state,” Tammi Kromenaker, the director of Red River Women’s Clinic (RRWC), told RH Reality Check. RRWC is the only abortion clinic in North Dakota. “The other bills aren’t really a threat right now, but this one could close us.” […]

These bills have drawn attention away from the true threat to RRWC: Under the new TRAP bill, abortion providers would be forced to obtain hospital admitting privileges. But at least one of the two local hospitals won’t offer those privileges to the clinic — because the quality of care at RRWC is so high that the clinic doesn’t need them.

Lawmakers proposed the bill under the guise of “women’s safety,” but Kromenaker points out that her clinic’s safety record is actually better than the average clinic safety records, showing that the “need” for the bill was completely fabricated. “This bill is intended to impose an impossible to meet requirement,” she said. “There is no other goal but to shut us down.”

North Dakota’s new six-week ban will likely be tied up in court for going much too far to undermine the constitutional protections in Roe v. Wade, which guarantees the right to first-trimester abortion services. And an even more radical “personhood” amendment, which could ban all abortions altogether if voters approve it on the 2014 November ballot, will face similar legal challenges if it becomes law. On the other hand, SB 2305 could force the Red River Women’s Clinic to close its doors relatively quickly — just like similar legislation has done to health clinics in other states.

And the situation in North Dakota isn’t unique. TRAP laws are spreading throughout the country, and have advanced in states like North Carolina, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, and Virginia. As RH Reality Check points out, TRAP laws are often effective because they’re able to fly under the radar — since “hospital admitting privileges” and “clinic safety standards” aren’t easily condensed into sound bytes, it can be harder to communicate what’s at stake for women seeking reproductive care.