Women’s Access To Legal Abortion Is Disappearing In The South

Harsh restrictions on abortion are sweeping the country, and these laws have found a particular foothold in Southern states. Louisiana just became the latest state to approve medically unnecessary legislation that will shut down abortion clinics — a strategy known as the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP. If the governor signs the measure into law, women’s access to abortion services in the region will shrink even further.

Louisiana’s neighbors have already advanced their own TRAP measures. Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas have all enacted laws requiring abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges with local hospitals, a partnership that’s often impossible in red states where hospitals are wary to be associated with abortion. Oklahoma is currently attempting to pass its own admitting privilege bill.

The TRAP laws in Mississippi and Alabama are tied up in court, but Texas’ law was allowed to take effect this past fall. Since then, multiple clinics have been forced out of business in the Lone Star State, leaving hundreds of miles without access to a single abortion facility. Unfortunately, a similar fate may await many of the providers in the surrounding area. Since most of the region is under the jurisdiction of the deeply conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the judicial system can’t necessarily be counted on to safeguard women’s reproductive rights.

Courtesy of Planned Parenthood Action, this map details the devastating impact that these laws threaten to have on abortion access in Southern states (the gray dots are the clinics that will be forced to close under TRAP laws, and the blue dots are the only ones that will remain after the laws are fully in effect):

CREDIT: Planned Parenthood Action
CREDIT: Planned Parenthood Action

According to estimations from the Guttmacher Institute, there are about 8.6 million women of reproductive age living in those five states. But in a potential future where all of those gray dots are forced out of business, those women will be left with just 12 abortion clinics in the entire region. There won’t be any clinics whatsoever in the western halves of Texas or Oklahoma, or in the whole state of Mississippi.

Planned Parenthood isn’t mincing words about the potentially devastating effects of this legislative trend. “We are deeply concerned that women in a vast stretch of this country are in real danger of losing the ability to access legal abortion safely,” Cecile Richards, the president of the organization, said in a statement released after the Louisiana legislature approved the TRAP law on Wednesday.

Anti-abortion activists agree with the heart of that statement, although they draw different conclusions about whether that’s actually a bad thing. “These incremental laws are part of a greater strategy to end abortion in our country,” Tanya Britton, a board member for Pro-Life Mississippi, told the New York Times. “It’s part of it, and one day, our country will be abortion free.”