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Seven states now have these laws, though so far they’ve only gone into effect in Tennessee, Utah, and partially in Kansas. In Wisconsin and North Dakota, suits have recently been filed. And in Alabama and Mississippi, judges have blocked these laws. Providers at Mississippi’s lone clinic actually tried to get the admitting privileges. It was after no hospital would grant them that the judge stepped in.
The legal argument against laws requiring hospital admitting privileges is that they impose what the Supreme Court calls an “undue burden” on women exercising their right to have an abortion. Still, here’s what has prochoice advocates worried: In nine states, abortion providers are also required to have an agreement with a hospital that lets them transfer a patient who needs emergency care. (Again, the hospital would have to take the patient in an emergency anyway.) In 2003, an Ohio doctor challenged his state’s law after the hospital he’d worked with canceled their transfer agreement, without giving a reason, and he couldn’t find another hospital to take its place. The doctor wanted a waiver so he could continue to operate, but he essentially lost in federal appeals court. The judges said that because there was another clinic 55 miles away, the law’s effect on this clinic didn’t pose an undue burden to women.
So that’s where we are. The 2010 elections, which put more Republicans in control of statehouses across the country, invigorated abortion opponents and gave them the chance to try new bills. In 2011 and 2012, 135 abortion restrictions passed in the states — the biggest wave ever. And it’s still cresting, with 43 additional restrictions so far this year.
How much is all this affecting women who seek abortions? And if you’re prochoice, how worried should you be? If you live in a state with a TRAP law that has teeth, clinics may well be shutting down. If there’s a telemedicine ban in effect and you live out in the country, you probably have to drive to a city now to take the pills you need. The overarching point is this: In many red states, abortion is truly becoming less accessible. But as significant as these new laws are, no state has yet succeeded in winning the race to be the first without a clinic. The courts still stand between the legislature and the patient. And for the most part, they are on her side.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.