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No good abortion clinic deserves to be TRAP-ed

Cassidy Ellis

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In over half the states in the country, particular physicians are targeted with laws that are passed with the hope of making it impossible for them to provide care. They are being trapped.

Imagine you are in need of wisdom tooth removal surgery. You realize your wisdom teeth are growing in, and while you could just leave them you decide you want to have them removed. You go online and look for the nearest oral maxillofacial surgeon, but find that you will have to drive over two hours one way to get to the doctor’s office.

You call the office to make an appointment at which time you are informed that there was once an oral maxillofacial surgeon in your city, but the clinic was recently forced to close due to new laws mandating that all the doorways in the office be a particular width, hallways be a particular length, and sidewalks be in a particular location of the building. The new law also required the office to be with a particular distance of a local hospital.

While the clinic that was once in your town met the last requirement regarding distance to a local hospital, there was no way the clinic could afford the unnecessary renovations to the office. It was forced to close, and the people in your city are forced to drive to the next nearest clinic two hours away.

You’re upset you will have to drive four hours total for the procedure, but are willing to make the trip. Understanding that you’re in an economic position to afford the trip and the procedure, you wonder how other people in your area manage to afford such a costly endeavor. Considering that an estimated 60% of people who have wisdom teeth choose to have them removed, you wonder why this common choice is being legislated.

The situation I’ve described above is obviously fictitious. Oral maxillofacial surgeons are not being regulated, and their offices aren’t shutting down. It actually sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Look back at the scenario. This time, replace the words “wisdom tooth removal” with “abortion” and “oral maxillofacial surgeons” with “abortion providers.” This is no longer a fictitious story.

Since 2010 Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP laws, have been passed in more than half the states in the country in an attempt to make it more difficult for people to exercise their right to abortion care. As described above, these erroneous laws regulate things like doorway width and hallway length.

In 2013 Texas HB 2, a TRAP law, passed through the senate despite Wendy Davis’s illustrious 13-hour filibuster. After being signed into law later that year, only 10 of the original 36 clinics remained open in Texas. After TRAP laws were passed in Mississippi, only 1 clinic remains throughout the whole state. Here in Tuscaloosa, our own clinic nearly faced closure just last year.

Despite studies finding abortion to be one of the safest medical procedures a person can have in their life (safer than wisdom tooth removal surgery, in fact), legislators, particularly southern legislators, are passing laws that regulate the length of reproductive healthcare clinic’s hallways for “patient’s safety.” Despite abortion being one of the most common medical procedures (1 in 4 people terminate a pregnancy according to the Guttmacher Institute), the government is making it increasingly more difficult to access.

Any person, regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status, would be affected by the wisdom tooth scenario above. However, the closure of reproductive healthcare clinics due to TRAP laws disproportionately affects women, specifically women of color with incomes below 100% of the federal poverty level.

Think back to the scenario at the beginning. Women across the country are facing this scenario every day. They are in need of medical care that they cannot access. They are trapped, their choices are limited and infringed upon.

Before abortion became legal in 1973, an estimated 5,000 women died from self-induced abortions per year. Since TRAP laws have closed nearly all the clinics in Texas, between 100,000 and 240,000 women have tried to self-induce an abortion. TRAP laws don’t protect women. Women die when abortion is not accessible at a clinic near them. 

Cassidy Ellis is a graduate student in communication studies.

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No good abortion clinic deserves to be TRAP-ed