Texas’s TRAP for women

July 18, 2013
Wendy Davis's abortion filibuster
Texas State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) speaks on June 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Supporters across the nation may very well be buying pairs of the pink Mizuno sneakers that Wendy Davis wore in her epic filibuster against proposed abortion restrictions in the Texas state legislature, but hardly anyone seems to be talking about its frustrating and inevitable aftermath. This morning, despite the efforts of Davis and thousands of others who gathered in Austin to cheer her on, those restrictions became law.

Gov. Rick Perry (R.) signed House Bill 2, which outlaws abortions after 20 weeks, puts in place a host of new restrictions on the use of RU-486 and requires all abortion providers in the state to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals as well as all clinics to comply with the regulatory standards for ambulatory surgical centers. Given that meeting those requirements will place a costly burden on the state’s 42 existing clinics, many are likely to close. In a state of 26 million people, as few as five could remain in business.

One probable outcome of that stroke of Perry’s pen, as The New York Times reported over the weekend, is that many Texas women may start traveling across the border into Mexico to seek abortion-inducing medication. A guaranteed outcome, however, is that millions of women in the Lone Star state will be left without easy access to affordable, judgment-free health care, even if they never had the slightest intention of getting an abortion in the first place. True to form, the governor actually had the audacity to sign the bill with a smile.

Regardless of the amount of publicity Texas in particular has received in the past month, it’s only one example in a growing list of states — Virginia, Ohio and, most recently, North Carolina — that have passed restrictions on abortion in the name of “women’s safety.” Seven months into the year, 2013 already has the second-highest number of state-level abortion restrictions ever to have passed. At this rate, that record may be broken by the end of the year.

Of course, the important point here has less to do with numbers than with the apparent concern for “women’s safety” itself. Frankly, if abortion opponents in these and other states want to declare a victory of any kind, they should stop pretending that the regulations they have finally succeeded in passing are a victory for anything but the opposite. Abortion clinics are already extremely safe: as the Guttmacher Institute reports, fewer than 0.3 percent of patients experience complications that require any hospitalization after the fact, and the risk of dying from an abortion in the first trimester, when the vast majority of procedures are performed, is about a four in one million. What, then, are the safety issues these new laws are responding to?

The restrictions, such as those in Texas’s House Bill 2, are known as TRAP laws, which stands for “targeted regulations of abortion providers.” They have no real purpose other than to make it virtually impossible for abortion providers to operate. After all, why do those providers need admitting privileges in hospitals when all emergency rooms care for anyone who arrives, no matter what? What’s the actual motivation behind requiring abortion clinics to meet the stricter standards of outpatient clinics when those clinics provide procedures that are far riskier than abortion itself? If “safety” were really the issue, wouldn’t those same legislative troops mobilize to protect the patients of colonoscopies or Lasik surgeries? You’d think.

In Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), the Supreme Court ruled that proposed spousal notification requirements placed an “undue burden” on married women seeking abortions. The variables may be different in TRAP laws, but the burdens they present are equally undue. We’ll see how they fare in the legal challenges that are bound to follow in the months and years ahead — and if Gov. Perry is still smiling then.

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Jonathan Bernstein | July 18, 2013