Closets, Air Conditioning, And Water Fountains: The Current Anti-Choice Weapons Against Abortion

On Saturday, a package of controversial abortion restrictions won final approval in the Texas legislature. The restrictions, which Gov. Rick Perry (R) will likely sign into law this week, will transform the reproductive landscape in the state by forcing the vast majority of abortion clinics to shut down.

So why exactly are abortion clinics being forced to close in Texas, as well as in the mounting number of other states that are pushing similar regulations? It’s not because they’re providing unsafe care and they need to drastically change their practices. In fact, Texas’ health department has confirmed that the clinics currently operating in the Lone Star State are extremely safe.

Usually, it’s actually because clinics can’t afford to make the expensive, unnecessary updates required under state laws. And that’s exactly the point, since those state-level measures are specifically designed to regulate them out of business. This type of indirect attack on reproductive access is known as the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP, and it’s an increasingly popular anti-choice strategy. Here are just a few examples of costly renovations that TRAP laws require abortion clinics to make, and that ultimately put them out of business:

New air conditioning: The high-profile murder trial of Kermit Gosnell, an illegal Philadelphia-area abortion provider who preyed on low-income women, inspired anti-choice activists to push for tighter regulations on legal clinics that were already operating above-board. Pennsylvania passed a TRAP law, and clinics in the state began closing their doors. One Planned Parenthood clinic in the state was able to stay open, but only after spending nearly a half a million dollars in renovations to get two of its clinics in line with the new regulations — which involved installing hands-free sinks, replacing the floors, and updating the air-conditioning system.

Fireproof doors: After Illinois enacted a TRAP law specially in response to Kermit Gosnell’s murder trial, clinics in the state were forced to make expensive renovations to their facilities. One clinic in Peoria spent about $10,000 to meet the standards of the “architectural inspection” required under the law. $4,000 of that went specifically to replacing the wooden doors to two storage rooms with fireproof ones instead.

Bigger janitor’s closets: Kansas started working hard to shut down abortion clinics in 2011, when the state rushed through harsh regulations and gave clinics just a few weeks to comply with the new rules. One of the state’s clinics closed shortly thereafter because it couldn’t meet the stringent requirements — which included ensuring that every room where abortions may occur maintains a temperature between 68 and 73 degrees, has at least 150 square feet, and has its own janitor’s closet with 50 or more square feet.

Updated ventilation systems: Virginia’s TRAP law first passed in 2011, and clinics have been fighting against it ever since. But some have had no choice but to close their doors. In April, a 40-year-old facility that has been providing reproductive care ever since Roe v. Wade first legalized abortion announced it would not be able to stay open. Architects estimated that the clinic would need $500,000 in renovations — including updates to its ventilation system and temperature controls — under the TRAP law, and it couldn’t afford to pay that.

Wider hallways: Just last month, Virginia’s busiest clinic was also forced to shut down because it couldn’t afford to make expensive updates to its building. The Fairfax clinic would have had to widen its doorways and hallways to accommodate hospital stretchers. It would have also had to expand its entrance area and parking lot. Clinic officials attempted to find a new building so they could relocate, but that ended up being too expensive under Fairfax’s new abortion restrictions, too.

Water fountains: At the end of April, Indiana enacted stringent abortion clinic restrictions specifically with the intention of targeting a Planned Parenthood clinic in the state. Under the new TRAP law, every clinic that prescribes the abortion pill will be required to adhere to all the same standards as surgical facilities — even though first-trimester medication abortion isn’t actually a surgical procedure. In order to comply with those new standards, the Planned Parenthood clinic would have to have a bathroom and a water fountain in its waiting room, in addition to ensuring its hallways are wide enough and its examination rooms are large enough.

TRAP laws can take yet another form in addition to costly facility renovations. They often impose unnecessary licensing requirements on abortion providers, requiring them to obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals even though leading doctor’s groups have pointed out that requirement doesn’t actually help make abortion care safer. And ironically, abortion clinics are already too safe to comply with the GOP-imposed regulations that claim to make them “safer.” Hospitals tend to only enter into agreements with clinics that regularly send them patients — but, since abortion so rarely lands women in the ER, hospitals often deny those admitting privileges to abortion providers.


TRAP laws in at least four states have been blocked by federal judges who say they go too far to limit women’s access to abortion care.