A barrage of state-level restrictions on abortion clinics — often, unnecessary regulations requiring them to widen their hallways, upgrade their air filtration systems, and form special agreements with hospitals — has forced a wave of clinic closures across the country. Since 2010, more than 50 abortion clinics have been forced to close their doors.
According to a Huffington Post analysis, at least 52 abortion clinics across 26 states have shut down since 2010. The shrinking number of abortion providers in the country is a direct result of harsh state laws that are specifically intended to target clinics. Those type of anti-abortion measures — known as the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP laws — have dramatically spread over the past three years. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 27 states now have unnecessary TRAP laws on the books.
Not every single clinic closure over the past three years was the direct result of state legislation. But the sheer number of abortion providers shutting down is unprecedented.
“This kind of change is incredibly dramatic,” Elizabeth Nash, the state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, told the Huffington Post in reference to the dozens of recent clinic closures. Nash explained that although there’s been a slow decline in the number of legal abortion providers since 1982, the dramatic changes over the past several years are “so different from what’s happened in the past.”
There are likely to be even more closures in the near future. States like Texas, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin pushed through new TRAP laws this summer that will likely force some clinics in those states to consolidate or shut down altogether. Litigation has successfully prevented other states like Mississippi and Alabama from shuttering clinics, but those providers will only be able to keep operating as long as courts continue ruling in their favor. The diminished access to quality providers is already forcing many women to cross state lines to get an abortion.
This narrowed access to abortion care is exactly the goal of TRAP laws. The anti-choice community is already celebrating the fact that abortion clinics are “closing at a record pace.” In Ohio, where lawmakers recently attached stringent abortion clinic restrictions to a two-year state budget, anti-abortion groups are hosting gleeful press conferences at the sites of clinics that have already been forced to close.
Women’s health experts warn that the medical community is partly to blame for the current dynamic. Abortion clinics have become an easy target because they tend to operate as freestanding clinics — instead of visiting a hospital that provides the whole range of reproductive health care, the vast majority of people who want to terminate a pregnancy need to go to a clinic. It’s easier to shut down clinics than it is to shut down hospitals, and it’s also easier to pass legislation intended to interfere with clinics’ medical practices when they’re not situated within a larger health provider. A group of 100 OB-GYNs have signed onto a letter encouraging hospitals to help reverse this trend by committing to start providing more abortion care.