More bad news for tricksy anti-abortion lawmakers: today, a federal court ruled unconstitutional an Alabama law that would require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Had the law gone into effect, all but two abortion clinics in the state would have been forced to close.
The law was adopted by the Alabama legislature in 2013, but its implementation was blocked after reproductive rights groups challenged its constitutionality. It's a typical — and typically malignant — Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) law: nominally introduced to protect women, such legislation is actually meant to over-regulate clinics out of existence. TRAP laws protect unborn fetuses at the cost of female reproductive autonomy as well as women's access to safe and legal abortions, all under the flimsy guise of keeping women safe. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists opposes such measures, but who cares what they say! Real Friends Of Women don't need to concern themselves with the opinions of women's health experts, because fetuses and also God.
In his ruling striking down the law, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson wrote:
The evidence compellingly demonstrates that the requirement would have the striking result of closing three of Alabama's five abortion clinics, clinics which perform only early abortions, long before viability. Indeed, the court is convinced that, if this requirement would not, in the face of all the evidence in the record, constitute an impermissible undue burden, then almost no regulation, short of those imposing an outright prohibition on abortion, would.
In other words: your bullshit anti-abortion agenda is very obvious and the right to choose is guaranteed to women by the law; sorry.
Hearteningly(ish), this ruling comes after federal judges struck down a similar measure in Mississippi that would have closed the last remaining clinic in the state. As restrictions on clinics continue to threaten abortion access across the South, one can only hope that judges continue to block conservatives' obvious ploys to sneaky-regulate women's abortion access into oblivion. However, as Robin Marty points out at Talking Points Memo, the judges in the Mississippi case never "explicitly [said] whether closing most of the clinics in a state is still allowable" — which is, obviously, "a concern" for the other cases making their way through the court system.
The important question here is: at what point does a burden become undue? When all of a state's clinics would be forced to close, as was the case in Mississippi? When over half of its clinics would shut down, like in Alabama? Managing to keep a few struggling clinics open in the face of anti-choice garbage laws is far from a complete victory over insidious anti-choice tactics, although it's definitely an encouraging step in the right direction.
So, do these rulings bode well for other TRAP-afflicted states? Um, well, we'll see later this week — right now, abortion provides in Texas are challenging a particularly restrictive provision of the state's ridiculously severe abortion law. The provision, which unnecessarily mandates that all abortion clinics must qualify as "ambulatory surgical centers," is supposed to go into effect on September 1. If it does, it will force all but seven abortion providers in the state to close. (A little over a year ago, for comparison's sake, there were forty-one providers operating in Texas.)
Will the federal court recognize the obvious unconstitutionality inherent in hundreds of thousands of reproductive-aged women living over 200 miles from an abortion facility? Or will lawmakers continue to say that women can just drive fast if they want to shave time off the six-hour round trip that some must take — twice, due to the mandatory in-person counseling and 24-hour waiting period — in order to terminate an unwanted pregnancy in Texas?
Hopefully, Mississippi and Alabama are a sign of better (or at least less-terrible) things to come. Hopefully.
Image of Reproductive Health Services, the only abortion clinic in remaining in Montgomery, via AP.