Abortion opponents in Texas backhandedly claim “pro-women” victory after latest TRAP law upheld

Ever since Roe v Wade, but especially in recent years, states under GOP leadership have launched an all-out assault on reproductive rights, passing a flurry of TRAP laws (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) that place stringent restrictions on abortion clinics. Tuesday marked another victory for this approach, with a federal appeals court upholding Texas’s HB2, the law that Wendy Davis famously filibustered back in 2013. Among other things, the law requires those who work at abortion clinics to obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals, and forces abortion clinics to adhere to the same equipment and building requirements as ambulatory surgical centers. It will reduce the number of abortion clinics in the state of Texas from 18 (down from 41 just a few years ago) to 10.

So it was baffling to hear Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton declare victory this week not only for opponents of abortion, but also for women. From The New York Times:

H.B. 2 both protects the unborn and ensures Texas women are not subjected to unsafe and unhealthy conditions,” Mr. Paxton said in a statement. “Today’s decision by the Fifth Circuit validates that the people of Texas have authority to establish safe, common-sense standards of care necessary to ensure the health of women.

Excuse me?

The statement is stuffed with so much nonsense that it shouldn’t deserve to be validated with a response. However, unfortunately, this kind of thinking is widespread. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 24 states have laws on the books imposing burdensome regulations on abortion providers — including Texas. And almost all of them are justified, one way or another, in the name of “women’s health” — at least, as Republicans conceive of it. So let’s examine this dubious claim.

Rick Perry, the TRAP law enthusiast responsible for HB2, via Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons

Rick Perry, the TRAP law enthusiast responsible for HB2, via Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons

First of all, legal abortion is safer than pregnancy. A study conducted in 2012 and published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that “the risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion.” Of course, this conclusion only holds if abortion remains legal and available, and recent legislative efforts in Texas and other states have made it clear that lawmakers have no intention of allowing that to continue. Once safe abortion is made difficult to access, and women are forced to take matters into their own hands, the consequences would be dire. According to a story published in the Times back in 2013, many anticipate that when Texas’s law finally goes into effect, women seeking abortions will start venturing south of the border to buy a pill, misoprostol, that induces abortion. The problem is, few know what constitutes a safe dosage of the drug. Others could resort to even more desperate — and less safe — measures.

(Notably, the state of Georgia recently dropped murder charges against a woman who had taken Cytotec, a related drug, to induce an abortion.)

Furthermore, abortion is one of the safest medical procedures out there (again, as long as it remains legal) — safer in terms of mortality rate than gallbladder surgery, bariatric surgery, hernia surgery and even colonoscopies. So maybe lawmakers should direct their efforts toward making those procedures safer, instead of regulating abortion clinics out of existence.

But of course, that’s what they’re trying to do. If abortion opponents cared one lick about protecting women’s health, they’d at least accompany their restrictions with increased funding for abortion providers so that they could meet these new (and totally unnecessary) criteria. They’d increase funding for Planned Parenthood, so that safe forms of contraception were more widely available. After all, the best way to reduce the number of abortions is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, and Texas’s abstinence-only sex-ed programs aren’t accomplishing that. At all.

Hell, if these conservatives wanted to improve women’s health they would’ve expanded Medicaid and established a state-run health exchange under the Affordable Care Act. They did neither of those things, instead forcing the federal government to step in and set their exchange up for them. Now they’re trying to shame residents who use it to sign up for coverage by labeling their health insurance cards.

Texas is the undisputed champion of denying health care to its citizens, particularly low-income workers who make too much to qualify for Medicaid and not enough to afford private health plans and fall into the doughnut hole of Texas’s own creation. Not coincidentally, these new abortion restrictions will hit poor and low-income women the hardest: They are the ones who will have to travel farther, pay more, and risk more to get this procedure. So it’s hard to take Ken Paxton and the Texas legislature’s seemingly newfound concern for “women’s health” seriously.

These anti-abortionists are trying to have it both ways. They roll back the number of weeks it’s permissible for a woman to get an abortion and claim they’re acting in her best interest. They force clinics across their state to close their doors and proclaim it a victory for women’s health. They make abortions more dangerous and profess to uphold a “culture of life.” The entire exercise is so knotted with contradictions it’s hard to know where genuine belief ends and cynical spin begins. But one thing remains crystal-clear: women don’t need any more of their “help.”

Jonah Allon is a senior at Tufts University from New York City. He has worked for the New York League of Conservation Voters and was a volunteer on President Obama's 2012 campaign. He primarily writes on the environment, reproductive rights and public policy.

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