Over the past several weeks, pro-choice activists in Texas have made national headlines as they attempt to block a package of stringent abortion restrictions from becoming law. Texas’ proposed legislation would criminalize abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and shut down the vast majority of abortion clinics in the state. Despite massive protests, the GOP-controlled legislature is rushing the measures through a second special session, and Gov. Rick Perry (R) has promised that his state will pass the new abortion restrictions.
However, even if the harsh anti-abortion measures do become law at the end of this session, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll stand. Twenty-week abortion bans in Arizona, Georgia, and Idaho have already been blocked from taking effect. And an increasing number of states are running into legal roadblocks when they try to shut down abortion clinics, too.
Imposing harsh regulations on abortion clinics with the sole purpose of shutting them down — a tactic known as the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP laws — is a popular anti-choice method of limiting access to reproductive care. State legislatures have rushed to pass nearly identical TRAP laws over the past several years, and legal challenges are now catching up with them. At least four states haven’t been able to enact those harsh abortion clinic restrictions, even after their legislatures passed them, because the TRAP laws have been blocked in court:
WISCONSIN: On Monday, a federal judge temporarily blocked a new Wisconsin law that Gov. Scott Walker (R) quietly approved on the Friday after the Fourth of July holiday. The new abortion restrictions mandate ultrasound procedures for women seeking abortions, as well as threaten to shut down two of the state’s four abortion clinics. U.S. District Judge William Conley determined that the stringent law would “almost certainly” cause “irreparable harm” to the women who would lose access to the two abortion clinics that would be forced to close. The law will be blocked for 10 days, until another hearing is held.
ALABAMA: Just over a week ago, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction against a new TRAP law in Alabama that would have forced most of the state’s clinics to stop providing abortion care. The new measure was set to take effect on July 1, but the last-minute decision from U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson ensured it will be blocked while the court takes more time to reach a final decision about it. In the opinion, Thompson pointed out that TRAP laws are “nearly impossible” for abortion clinics to comply with — which is exactly the point of the anti-choice legislation — and warned that Alabama’s new restrictions will have a “permanent destabilizing effect on the provision of abortions in this State, as clinics will have to constantly struggle under threat of closure or ceasing services to maintain a medical staff that is qualified under the law.”
MISSISSIPPI: Mississippi was one of the first states to pass a TRAP law, and several other states have modeled similar legislation off of its law. But this April, a federal judge temporarily blocked the measure, effectively preventing Mississppi from shutting down its last remaining abortion clinic. U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III said that requiring the state’s only abortion provider to adhere to the complicated new regulations, which would likely force it to close, would ultimately “result in a patchwork system where constitutional rights are available in some states but not others.”
KANSAS: In 2011, Gov. Sam Brownback (R) signed several restrictive anti-abortion measures into law, including a TRAP law that threatened to close the state’s three clinics. The same year, U.S. District Judge Carlos Murguia issued a temporary injunction to block the law, pointing out that abortion providers and women seeking abortions would “suffer irreparable harm” under the new restrictions. The backlash convinced state legislators to amend the TRAP law to soften it — but, since women’s health advocates pointed out that the revised law still placed “irrational” regulations on abortion clinics, the legal challenge continued. The case is still pending, preventing the harsh regulations from taking effect, and allowing a new abortion clinic to open in the building where the late Dr. George Tiller used to practice.
There has not yet been a definitive ruling to permanently overturn a state-level TRAP law. But the legal challenges are piling up — lawsuits have also recently been filed against similar laws in North Dakota and Virginia — and there’s a theme emerging. Federal judges agree that TRAP laws impose regulations on abortion clinics that are nearly impossible for them to follow, and they suspect that allowing states to shut down clinics will prevent the women who live there from exercising their reproductive rights. If Rick Perry gets his way and Texas successfully enacts its own abortion restrictions, a similar fate may await them in court.