The only abortion clinic in northern Alabama will close by next Monday, after failing to comply with a new state law that imposes strict regulations on abortion providers.
Alabama Women's Center, located in Huntsville, opted to volunteer to give up their state license rather than undergo an inspection by state officials. The law in question was passed in April 2013 but goes into effect July 1.
The new regulations dictated in the law require abortion clinics to follow the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers, including having hallways and doorways wide enough for hospital gurneys. Other restrictions include instating a 48-hour waiting period before women can get an abortion and requiring clinics to employ doctors who have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals in the same city.
'It will be a sad day for us to close our doors because it means women of North Alabama will no longer have access to the multiple health care services we provide, not just abortions.'
Proponents of the law say that it introduces regulations that are necessary precautions for the health and safety of women.
“We only think it's fair that when a woman goes to have an abortion that it be in a very safe and protected environment and that she get the utmost of care," said state Representative Mary Sue McClurkin, who passed the bill in the state legislature last year. "We would hope that one day she would choose not to."
But many others say that the controversial law restricts access to abortions and poses a health risk to women.
"It will be a sad day for us to close our doors because it means women of North Alabama will no longer have access to the multiple health care services we provide, not just abortions," clinic administrator Dalton Johnson told local news outlet, WAFF, after announcing the closure.
The shuttering of Alabama Women’s Center leaves three other clinics open and operating in the state, located in Mobile, Tuscaloosa, and Montgomery.
Alabama is far from the only state with legislation restricting access to abortions. This is the latest in a series of laws being passed in dozens of states that aim to restrict abortions, known as “Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers” or TRAP.
TRAP laws aim to impose regulations on abortion centers in the name of increasing patient safety, such as requiring them to install water fountains, expand their parking lots, and widen hallways. But, as this latest closure in Alabama demonstrates, they often result in clinics being forced to shut down altogether since many are unable to pay for expensive renovations.
'The reality is that legal abortion is one of the safest medical procedures that exists.'
Currently, 27 states have some type of TRAP law regulating abortion provision, with 13 states regulating the width of corridor. The size of procedure rooms is also specified by 13 states.
Texas has been the scene of some of the most contentious fighting over the introduction of its own form of TRAP legislation, known as HB2. In 2011 there were 41 abortion clinics throughout Texas, which has since dropped to 24. When the portion of the law requiring abortion clinics to follow ambulatory surgical center regulations kicks in by September this year, the number is likely to drop to six.
Many advocacy groups are fighting legal battles for the repeal of these laws. One of the organizations leading the fight against TRAP laws is the Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed a lawsuit in April challenging Texas’ HB2 law. It argues that the legislation cuts the number of abortion providers available in Texas, barring overall access to abortion and poses a serious health risk to Texas women.
“Many federal courts have already blocked these laws from taking effect because they’ve ruled that they’re unconstitutional and don’t actually protect womens' health,” Julie Rikelman, the litigation director at the Center for Reproductive Rights, told VICE News. “The reality is that legal abortion is one of the safest medical procedures that exists and that is why doctors and most major medical organizations — including the American Medical Association — have come out against these laws.”
In Mississippi, there is currently only one licensed abortion center left open and operating, but it is also at risk because of similar TRAP legislation. “The clinic in Mississippi is only still open because of a court order we filed from a federal court in the state preventing,” said Rikelman.
Alabama Women’s Center say they are looking to move to a new location to bring it up to code with the new regulations, but blueprints for the new building have yet to be approved. It is not immediately clear if they will be approved by next Tuesday’s deadline, but the administrators are committed to keeping the clinic open. "We will continue the fight to re-open at the new facility while we continue to follow every letter of the law," said Johnson.
Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928
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