Any day now, the U.S. Supreme Court is ruling on a case that could redefine abortion access in America. The case, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, is about whether to uphold targeted restrictions on abortion providers (TRAP laws) in Texas. TRAP laws — which are severe and medically unnecessary — have already devastated access to safe, legal abortion in Texas and hurt access in at least 23 other states that have imposed them, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
TRAP laws have nothing to do with women’s health and everything to do with shutting down abortion providers. In fact, medical experts like the American Medical Association and American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists oppose TRAP laws because they don’t improve safety — just the opposite. They hurt women by blocking access to safe medical care.
TRAP Building Requirements & Hospital Relationships
The case Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt centers on two TRAP provisions: a mandate that all abortion providers comply with onerous and medically unnecessary building requirements for ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs), and an unfair, also medically unnecessary requirement that doctors who provide abortions obtain hospital admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
To repeat: Abortion has a 99% safety record, according to the CDC and other experts.
Rebuilding a health center to become an ASC is medically unnecessary and prohibitively expensive — it involves mandating the width of hallways, complex HVAC systems, down-to-the-inch dimensions for operating rooms, and specifications for outfitting janitor’s closets. The result of such onerous restrictions is simply fewer providers. Think about it: The width of hallways, paint colors, and janitors’ closets have little to do with actual patient care.
Same thing goes for admitting privileges: There is no medical basis for these laws. Abortion providers already have plans in the rare case of an emergency to ensure patient safety. In fact, abortion is so safe that doctors rarely admit patients to a hospital, which can make it hard or impossible for them to get privileges in the first place. Forcing them to obtain admitting privileges can also set up a catch-22 if the only local hospital is hostile to abortion access due to its religious affiliation, political pressure, or other reasons that have nothing to do with quality of medical care.
Even if doctors can surmount the extreme financial and logistical hurdles to build an ASC, the admitting privileges restriction poses a virtual brick wall to providing care in some areas. Essentially, you’d have a building — but no doctors who can provide care there. It’s no surprise that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association both oppose mandated admitting privileges.
TRAP Location & Reporting Requirements
But admitting privilege and building requirements aren’t the only types of TRAP laws harming access to safe and legal abortion across the country.
The Impact of TRAP Laws
TRAP laws have closed health centers that women rely on and have delayed abortion care. It’s a snowball effect. Consider this:
Between 2013 and 2014, admitting privilege and building requirements caused the number of abortion providers in Texas to fall sharply.
In that time, the number of women who live more than 100 miles from an abortion clinic in Texas tripled.
Delaying abortion services has increased the risk and the cost of an abortion. ( Abortion is extremely safe, but it is safest the earliest it’s provided.)
Of course, traveling longer distances to abortion providers is especially burdensome for low-income women who have to find the money for transportation, take time off from work, and secure child care.
TRAP’s Real Goal: Shutting Down Abortion Providers When They Can’t Comply
It’s never been more obvious that TRAP regulations are politically motivated. Politicians are not medical experts, and yet they have written TRAP legislation to chip away at abortion access — law by law, state by state — and undermine Roe v. Wade. Their end goal? Shutting down health centers; making safe, legal abortion hard or even impossible to access; and leaving hundreds of thousands without care.
Bottom line: A woman’s ability to make a medical decision shouldn’t depend on where she lives, or whether she has the luxury of traveling out of state for health care. We will never stop fighting for her right to access the health care she needs.
- Marie Claire: The Devastating Impact of Abortion Restrictions in Missouri and Beyond