There’s some good news and some bad news in the Guttmacher Institute’s latest report on state-level abortion restrictions. On one hand, the pace of anti-abortion laws is slowing — states enacted 21 new restrictions in the first six months of this year, which is lower than the number of restrictions enacted halfway through any of the past three years. But on the other hand, there’s one particularly dangerous restriction that continues to rapidly advance, and now threatens access to reproductive health clinics for the majority of women in the country.
More than half the states in the country now have anti-abortion laws on the books that fall under what’s known as the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP. This particular anti-choice strategy is a method of indirectly limiting women’s abortion access by making it too difficult for clinics to stay open. TRAP laws place extra burdens on clinics by requiring them to make unnecessary and expensive renovations — like widening hallways, building closets, and installing water fountains — and by forcing them to enter into superfluous partnerships with local hospitals.
So far this year, states like Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma have all approved new TRAP laws, a move that threatens women’s access to abortion services throughout a broad swath of the South. And in general, according to Guttmacher, the number of TRAP laws in place on the state level has rapidly increased over the past 15 years:
The Guttmacher Institute estimates that TRAP laws are now the type of abortion restriction with the greatest impact on U.S. women. According to the new report, 59 percent of women of reproductive age currently live in a state that has a TRAP law in place.
“Increasingly, politicians are passing laws that close down women’s health centers and make getting a safe and legal abortion not just much more difficult, but essentially impossible, for many women,” Jennifer Dalven, the director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, said in response to Guttmacher’s new report. “More and more, a woman’s access to abortion depends on where she lives. That isn’t supposed to happen in this country.”
Texas provides the most ominous example of what these laws can do to a state’s reproductive health landscape. After a new TRAP law took effect in the Lone Star State this past fall, multiple clinics have been forced out of business, some doctors have unnecessarily lost their licenses, and hundreds of miles are now left without access to a single abortion facility. Ultimately, the state’s poorest and most vulnerable residents are now paying the price. Nonetheless, other states have been eager to follow in Texas’ footsteps — particularly after a conservative appeals court upheld Texas’ law, sending right-wing lawmakers the signal that similar requirements might also be allowed to stand.
Guttmacher describes TRAP as “gaining momentum” and “taking center stage.” The main reason that TRAP laws have been so politically successful is because they’re framed in terms of making clinics safer. It seems logical to hold reproductive health facilities to rigid standards to ensure their patients are getting the best care possible, and that’s why abortion opponents have been able to win so much ground in this area.
In reality, however, there isn’t any medical evidence to support the logic behind TRAP. Multiple studies have shown that abortion clinics are already highly regulated and extremely safe. And the nation’s largest organization of OB-GYNs is firmly opposed to TRAP laws.