This month, the ACLU is working with Planned Parenthood in Alabama and Wisconsin to reverse restrictive Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws that were passed in the two states last year. Last month, I wrote about TRAP laws being used as a tool to prevent access to safe and legal abortions. TRAP laws are burdensome and unnecessary laws that impose regulations on doctors and practices that provide abortions. TRAP laws close clinics, restrict practices, and introduce roadblocks to accessing abortion services. The end result of these laws is the same: clinics close and women’s access to reproductive health care is limited. Proponents of TRAP laws often argue that these laws are concerned with women’s health and safety, but, as the ACLU’s deputy legal director Louise Melling states, these laws were “designed by politicians, not doctors, with the single-minded goal of shutting down women’s health care centers and ending access to safe, legal abortion.”
In Alabama, HB 57 introduces three primary abortion restrictions: 1) admitting privileges requirements; 2) a telemedicine abortion ban; and 3) ambulatory surgical center requirements. HB 57, or the “Women’s Health and Safety Act,” requires that physicians have staff privileges at an “acute care hospital within the same standard metropolitan statistical area as the facility.” The bill essentially bans telemedicine abortions by requiring that the physician prescribing an abortion-inducing drug first examine the woman prior to providing or prescribing the necessary drug. Telemedicine abortions allow women who live in poorer, rural communities to access abortion. Generally, a woman seeking a telemedicine abortion is examined by a health care provider in their local clinic to determine the gestational age of the fetus. After the examination, the woman then speaks to the (off-site) prescribing physician virtually, who then prescribes the abortion-inducing medication. While HB 57 doesn’t ban telemedicine outright, the bill renders the service inaccessible to those who would need it most. Requiring that the prescribing physician perform the examination means that women living in rural areas must spend hours traveling in order to be seen by a physician. Finally, HB 57 requires that abortion clinics meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers (ASC). Forcing clinics to meet these standards isn't necessary. The Guttmacher Institute has found that, in general, ASCs provide procedures that are more invasive and risky than abortion.
In Wisconsin, SB 206 introduces similar restrictions. The bill requires admitting privileges – physicians performing abortions must have admitting privileges in a hospital within 30 miles of the location where the abortion is to be performed. If this law is enacted, physicians who perform abortions without admitting privileges may face felony charges. SB 206 also amends Wisconsin’s current informed consent laws by requiring that an ultrasound must be included with the already mandated counseling. This ultrasound can be waived if the pregnancy resulted from a sexual assault or incest, but only if the incident was reported to law enforcement. The ultrasound process must include: a “simultaneous” oral explanation of the presence and location of the fetus; a display of the ultrasound images so the woman can view them; a medical description of the ultrasound images; and a means for the pregnant individual to visualize the fetal heartbeat. Currently, the only provision being challenged is the admitting privileges provision; the ultrasound requirement has been in effect since late 2013.
If HB 57 is allowed to take effect, Alabama would be left with only two health centers to provide women with safe and legal abortions. Wisconsin currently has only four health centers that can provide safe and legal abortions. If SB 206 takes effect, one provider in Milwaukee would be forced to close immediately. It’s clear that these laws are not concerned with women’s health and medical safety. It’s clear that anti-abortion opponents are waging a stealth war on abortion. If you’re tired of politicians playing doctor, click here to add your name and stand together with all of us.