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Op-Ed Blasts State Laws Targeting Abortion Access

January 22, 2016 — "The greatest threat to abortion providers in the United States is not fanatics like Robert Lewis Dear, who killed innocent people at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic -- it's state legislatures, many of which are going back into session this week," filmmaker Dawn Porter writes in an opinion piece for Creative Time Reports/The Guardian. Porter made a documentary film, "Trapped," that examines targeted regulation of abortion provider laws across the United States.

Porter explains, "In theory, Roe v Wade guarantees a woman a choice about whether to have an abortion," but "[n]ew laws are cropping up in state legislatures around the country -- laws that appear to be mundane regulations but that are in fact aimed at closing abortion clinics at alarming rates."

According to Porter, these TRAP laws "don't make abortion itself illegal but impose more and more regulations on providers, dictating everything from the width of clinic hallways to how and when doctors can administer medications like the abortion pill." She explains that "legislators are using these regulations to make an end run around a constitutional right," meaning that women who seek out abortion care increasingly "fin[d] that there's nowhere to go."

Porter writes, "Since 2010 ... there have been more than 250 restrictions on abortion passed in states across the country." Citing her experience filming "Trapped," she describes the "devastating results" of these restrictions, such as the long distances women must travel to reach a provider, the related increase in cost and the extensive delays. "These laws are literally sweeping the country," she continues, noting that the Guttmacher Institute currently categorizes 27 states "as hostile to abortion" and 18 states as "extremely hostile -- meaning that they have more than six major types of abortion regulations on the books."

According to Porter, "The regulations that have been most devastating to abortion clinics are those that impose standards that are expensive or impossible to meet, such as the requirement that a doctor working in an abortion clinic have admitting privileges at a local hospital." While filming "Trapped," Porter says she learned local hospitals frequently "won't grant these privileges, leaving the doctor and the clinic in a Kafkaesque catch-22 in which there is no way to meet the requirements of the law" and leaving patients "unable to access the care they seek."

Porter explains that "[m]any of the laws being introduced over and over again around the country are nearly identical," based on model legislation crafted by antiabortion-rights group Americans United for Life. According to Porter, "Challenges to these laws have been slowly percolating through the courts, but this spring they will come to the forefront of the American political dialogue" when the Supreme Court hears a challenge to "Texas's HB 2 law, which is in many respects the model for [TRAP] regulations."

She writes, "The case has been described as the most important reproductive rights case to come before the court in the past two decades, one that could literally determine whether the protections set forth in Roe v Wade remain the law of the land." As TRAP laws spread across the United States, "we are starting to see a world without abortion clinics," which poses "a real threat to women's health," Porter continues, citing a study that estimates that "between 100,000 and 240,000 Texas women have tried to self-abort."

According to Porter, TRAP laws "interfere with a woman's constitutionally protected right to make her own decisions about whether and when to bear a child," and they "threat[en] not only ... the right to choose but also ... democratic ideals." She notes, "If this trend continues, the United States may become the largest industrialized nation in which large swathes of the population don't have access to safe and legal abortion." Porter concludes, "If lawmakers really cared about women's health, they wouldn't support laws that close clinics but would ensure that women have the right to safe and effective birth control and that they have a safe way to terminate [unintended] pregnancies" (Porter, Creative Time Reports/The Guardian, 1/20).