The Courts Aren’t Falling Into TRAPs

Two rulings last week in Texas and Louisiana prove that, at least for now, some judges aren’t buying into the deceptive rationale used by right-wing lawmakers who enact TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws.

Late Sunday evening, a federal district court issued an injunction against a Louisiana law that would have required abortion-providing doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) in June and, had it gone into effect, could have shuttered three of the five abortion clinics in the state. Said Nancy Northrup, CEO and president of the Center for Reproductive Rights,

[This] ruling ensures Louisiana women are safe from an underhanded law that seeks to strip them of their health and rights. As the flimsy façade of these laws grows thinner by the day, we continue to look to the courts to uphold the Constitution and protect access to safe and legal abortion for all women regardless of where they happen to live.

Earlier, on Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel struck down a Texas law that would have required abortion clinics to meet the stringent building requirements of ambulatory surgical centers. Had the law gone into effect, most of the state’s abortion clinics would have been forced to close. Said Feminist Majority Foundation President (and publisher of Ms.) Eleanor Smeal,

A woman’s constitutionally protected right to seek out a safe and legal abortion should not hinge on the width of a doorway. Access to abortion and birth control is under attack across the nation. No other outpatient service has been made to adhere to these medically unnecessary and harmful requirements.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is running for governor, has appealed the ruling and a decision could come as early as this week.

TRAP laws similar to those in Texas and Louisiana are being challenged around the country. In July, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a decision by a federal district court in Mississippi that deemed unconstitutional a TRAP law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges; the law would have forced the closure of the last clinic in the state. Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood has appealed the decision. And in Alabama last month, U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson defended women’s access to reproductive care when he struck down an admitting-privileges law.

In his impassioned 172-page decision, Thompson wrote about the history of violence that has plagued Alabama’s abortion clinics since the 1990s—doctors have been killed, stalked and harassed; clinics have been bombed—noting that a constant fear of violence has caused the number of clinics in the state to decline steadily. Describing the current climate, he wrote:

Against the backdrop of this history of violence, abortion providers and women seeking abortions in Alabama today live and work in a climate of extreme hostility to the practice of abortion. On a day-to-day basis, a provider or a patient sees this hostility when she opens the newspaper, drives by a group of protesters at a clinic, or learns that another piece of legislation concerning abortion has been enacted.

Abortion’s not just under attack in state legislatures: A number of measures challenging access to reproductive care will appear on ballots this November. In Tennessee, Amendment 1 would amend the state’s constitution to declare that there is no right to abortion. And in North Dakota and Colorado, voters will be asked to decide whether or not “personhood”—and the rights associated with it—should be granted to fetuses, embryos and fertilized eggs. We’re counting on voters to make short work of these deceptive propositions—just like these judges.

Photo of pro-choice activists outside the Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Mississippi courtesy of Edwith Theogene, Feminist Majority Foundation.