The only abortion clinic in northern Alabama is closing its doors at the end of this week because it can’t comply with a harsh new state law that requires it to meet strict building requirements. Under a law that was approved last spring, reproductive health clinics must bring their building codes in line with ambulatory surgical centers — which involves unnecessary and expensive updates like widening their hallways to accommodate stretchers.
The new law takes effect at the beginning of July, and the staff at the Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives knows they won’t be able to renovate their Huntsville-area clinic to bring it into compliance with the requirements. They opted to voluntarily surrender their state license rather than wait for officials to step in and revoke it.
That leaves just three abortion clinics currently operating in Alabama, currently located in Mobile, Tuscaloosa, and Montgomery. Meanwhile, the women who live in the northern region of the state — including the residents of the large metropolitan areas around Birmingham and Hunstville — will now be forced to travel up to several hours to access reproductive health care.
“It will be a sad day for us to close our doors because it means women of North Alabama will no longer have access to the multiple health care services we provide, not just abortions,” the Alabama Women’s Center clinic administrator, Dalton Johnson, told local outlet WAFF. Johnson is attempting to relocate his business to another building that complies with the state law, which involves applying for another state license and getting his blueprints approved by the health department. He hasn’t yet heard back about whether his move will be allowed.
The Christian Coalition of Alabama, which has protested on the sidewalk outside of the Huntsville clinic for the past 10 years, is planning to gather on Monday and hold a memorial service for the abortions that have been performed there during its operation.
This situation is hardly unique to the Alabama Women’s Center. Across the country, state lawmakers have enacted harsh restrictions on abortion clinics that require them to widen their hallways, expand their parking lots, install drinking fountains, build more janitors’ closets, and update their air filtration systems. Clinics are often forced to close because they can’t afford to make those expensive updates to their buildings, which can cost more than a million dollars in some cases. This anti-choice tactic is known as the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP, since it’s intended to indirectly limit women’s access to abortion by imposing too much red tape on clinics.
Although TRAP laws are framed in terms of ensuring patient safety, wider hallways and bigger closets don’t actually do anything to improve the medical care that women receive. Abortion clinics are already highly regulated — and there’s no reason to require them to meet the same standards as surgical centers because they actually perform procedures that are much less invasive and require less sedation.
In addition to building code requirements, many TRAP laws also require abortion doctors to enter into unnecessary business arrangements with local hospitals — a partnership that’s often impossible to get from hospitals that are wary to be associated with a politically contentious procedure. Alabama’s new law also included that provision, although it hasn’t gone into effect yet because it’s being challenged in court. If it’s allowed to stand, it has the potential to force even more clinics out of business in a region of the country where women’s access to abortion continues to dwindle.