TRAP Laws Ensnare Women’s Reproductive Rights

By Charundi Panagoda, Communications Intern

Women trying to access reproductive health care are often subjected to threats, harassment and legislative roadblocks. The latest barriers are “TRAP” laws — Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers — designed to shut down clinics that perform abortions. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), TRAP laws “single out the medical practices of doctors who provide abortions, and impose on them requirements that are different and more burdensome than those imposed on other medical practices.”

Virginia is the latest battleground, with SB 924 expected to go into effect Dec. 31. The bill outlines minimum standards for “infection prevention, disaster preparedness, and facility security of hospitals, nursing homes, and certified nursing facilities.” These standards were meant to be applied to hospitals about to be built and didn’t have anything to do with abortion care providers, until the state House added an amendment redefining all facilities that provide five or more first trimester abortions per month as a category of hospital for the purpose of regulating them under SB 924.

On Sept. 14, about a hundred members from NOW, the Feminist Majority Foundation, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, and College Democrats rallied in Richmond against SB 924. Despite their efforts and a reportedly contentious debate, the Virginia Board of Health approved the regulations the next day. Republican Governor Bob McDonnell must still sign the bill, but there is little doubt he will.

The Virginia TRAP rules are much more rigid than laws passed in Kansas earlier this year, which were subsequently blocked by District Judge Carlos Murguia. According to the Huffington Post, the new laws impose that “. . . a clinic must have 5-foot-wide hallways, 8-foot-wide areas outside of procedure rooms, specific numbers of toilets and types of sinks and all of the latest requirements for air circulation flow and electrical wiring. Each clinic must also have a parking spot for every bed, despite the fact that first-trimester abortions don’t require an overnight stay. Further, Department of Health employees will be allowed to enter an abortion facility at any time without notice or identification.”

The right-wing, anti-choice makers of TRAP laws maintain that such regulations should be in place to ensure the safety of patients getting abortions; except parking space, toilet type, or electrical wiring do little to protect patients. TRAP laws also promote the idea that abortion is somehow an unregulated and unsafe procedure, when in reality it is one of the safest and most commonly provided medical procedures in the United States, according to National Abortion Federation. In fact, getting an abortion is safer than having your tonsils removed. Not to mention, all abortion providers are already required to comply with many state and federal regulations, including Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements. As for the physical sites, they are subjected to state and local building and fire codes.

The ultimate impact of TRAP laws is that they make abortion care too expensive and onerous for providers and result in the closing down of (especially small-scale) abortion clinics because renovations to meet new requirements are so costly. Additionally, TRAP laws hinder all the non-abortion services these clinics provide for women.

In Virginia, the TRAP laws will become effective through emergency procedures in 280 days, and will remain effective for 12 months, or 18 months with the governor’s approval. This could shut down about 15 of 21 abortion clinics in the state, affecting thousands of women and disproportionately affecting poor women and women of color. The TRAP laws are nothing more than ideologically-based legislative maneuvering to block women’s ability to receive safe and legal abortion care.

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