TRAP Laws — What are they?

Some politicians and groups who oppose abortion have proposed “Targeted Restriction of Abortion Provider” (“TRAP”) laws, requiring health centers which provide abortion to meet special, onerous standards which research has indicated do not protect the health and safety of patients. These bills single out sexual and reproductive health clinics in order to limit access to abortion services, and have the intention of ultimately shutting down healthcare providers who support abortion. Clinics and doctors offices that provide abortions are currently regulated in the same way as other health care facilities which provide much more invasive procedures (that often requires general anesthesia).


Why do TRAP laws still matter?

The June 2016 Supreme Court victory, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, ruled that Texan TRAP laws placed an undue burden on those seeking abortion. The Supreme Court specifically ruled against laws forcing clinics to obtain hospital admitting privileges and create facilities akin to an ambulatory surgical center.  This was a victory for reproductive health advocates nationwide. These laws closed 21 abortion clinics in Texas, over half of the abortion clinics remaining in the state. There are only 19 clinics remaining.

Some people assume that the Supreme Court Victory in Texas means that the days of TRAP laws are over. But TRAP laws were in place for three years. Their effects during this time still have grave consequences for Texans. Moreover, this does not necessarily mean that TRAP laws are no longer a nationwide threat.

The 21 clinics that closed will not all reopen overnight, and some of them may never, as many of them need to re-obtain funds as well as state licensing. There are still many Texans who live hundreds of miles from the nearest abortion provider. For example, those living in the Rio Grande Valley once relied on the Corpus Christi Birth Control Center, yet the physician who once ran the clinic has no intent of reopening it despite the positive Supreme Court ruling, due to years of targeted attacks. Those who seek abortion must now drive over 200 miles to San Antonio.

The effects of TRAP laws linger in legislation as well. Nineteen states have restrictive abortion facility requirements, though less severe than those in Texas. So far, these laws have not been challenged, and their fate is unclear. In addition, Missouri, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Utah still require hospital admitting privileges, though if these laws are challenged, it certainly will be hard for them to survive.

Importantly, not all abortion restrictions are TRAP laws, and plenty of other restrictions persist after the Supreme Court ruling. These restrictions disproportionately affect low-income people and people of color. They include, but are not limited to:

  • parental notification/consent laws
  • medication abortion (“abortion pill”) restriction
  • restrictions on private insurance coverage
  • restrictions on low-income women’s access to abortion through the Hyde amendment
  • mandated counseling, where doctors must share medically inaccurate information.
  • restrictions on later abortion care.

In Texas, there are still strict limitations on medication abortion, or taking a pill to terminate a pregnancy, as well as on and abortions performed after 20 weeks into a pregnancy. And this year alone, legislators introduced 445 provisions to restrict abortion.

On our blog, we will track the effects of these restrictions nationwide and in Delaware.