TRAP Laws Are Legislative Assault–Not Safety Rules to Protect Women

Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (heard by the Supreme Court on March 2) hinges on TRAP, or Targeted Regulations for Abortion Providers laws, which require clinics providing abortion services to meet the same medical standards as surgical suites providing invasive cardiac procedures, tonsillectomies, sinus surgery, and other similar procedures. The Texas law at issue in this case, which caused the majority of Texas abortion clinics to close, requires that all Texas abortion providers meet these TRAP standards.

These regulations—which aim not to protect patients but to limit access to abortion—mandate minute and irrelevant features such as the size of procedure rooms, the size of hallways (two stretchers wide), the size of the parking lot, the type of snacks available, and the type of awnings over the entrance. Their goal is not to protect patients but to keep them from exercising their right to an abortion. Other mandates such as resuscitative equipment and infection control measures are superfluous because such medically necessary standards are already in place, and abortion providers are currently equipped to meet these standards.

The most recent TRAP requirement abortion opponents are proposing is that abortion providers have “hospital admitting privileges,” a phony concern that is not required of other medical or dental offices. In fact, patients who present to an emergency room by ambulance or on their own most often will NOT have a physician with admitting privileges at that hospital.

Emergency rooms are legally required to care for every person who presents for care, without exception. Every patient must be evaluated and rendered care in the emergency room by that hospital’s emergency room physicians. The presence or absence of a personal physician who has admitting privileges is irrelevant.

The real question is whether or not facts matter. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists stated that “barriers to care — under the guise of concerns about patient safety — are bad medicine. Women in need of abortion should not be forced to burden themselves and their families in order to get the health care that is right for them. Other needed forms of health care are not subject to these unfounded restrictions and attacks.”

Judge Richard A. Posner of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit struck down Wisconsin’s “admitting privileges law” in 2015, saying “Courts should weigh the medical evidence behind a regulation against the impact. If the evidence is feeble and the burden substantial, the burden is undue.” We concur with that judicial rationale and demand the Supreme Court to follow this standard.

The Supreme Court must rely on the facts of evidence-based medicine rather than abortion opponents’ tactics to limit women’s access to needed services. The Court must reaffirm women’ rights to make their own private and confidential health care decisions.

Karen Pataky, NPC
Chair, Health Care Task Force

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