Senate Committee Approves New, Ridiculous Standards That Could Shut Down Most Abortion Clinics In Texas

Texas' Senate Health and Human Services committee approved another measure late yesterday straight out of the anti-abortion playbook: a bill that would require all medical facilities that perform abortions to meet the standards of an "ambulatory surgical center." Opponents of the bill are calling it a "back-door abortion ban," mostly because that's what it is.

The bill, SB 537, was written by medical doctor, evangelical Christian and zealous anti-abortion activist Bob Deuell, who's supported virtually every piece of anti-abortion legislation offered over the last decade. If signed into law, SB 537 would mandate that "the minimum standards for an abortion facility must be equivalent to the minimum standards adopted under for ambulatory surgical centers." Only six abortion facilities in Texas are currently licensed as ASCs.

Supporters of the bill argue that the new regulations would make abortions safer. "I make no secret that I don't think abortion should be legal, but I also face the reality that they are," said Deuell himself, according to the Texas Observer. "And given that fact, I think that we should take all precautions to make sure that abortion, which is a surgical procedure, is done to the highest standard possible."

So what does "higher standards" mean in this case? The answer: wider hallways, a guaranteed square footage per operating room, and replacing the ventilation systems in abortion-providing facilities with other, more expensive ventilation systems, among other things. What does any of that have to do with abortion, which is, the vast majority of the time, an outpatient procedure? Nothing. And that's the point.

Bills like SB 537 have a name; they're called TRAP (Targeted Regulations of Abortion Provider) bills. They are, according to the Guttmacher Institute, "stringent regulations that affect only surgical and medication abortion providers, but not other providers of outpatient surgical and medical care." TRAP laws are nothing new; the Center for Reproductive Rights wrote about them back in 2007, warning that these "excessive and unnecessary government regulations" would "increase the cost and scarcity of abortion services, harming women's health and inhibiting their reproductive choices."

TRAP is a strategy that's gaining speed, for the simple reason that it's easier than trying to ban abortion outright. According to CRR, 17 states proposed some type of TRAP law last year. Americans United for Life, the architect of much of the anti-abortion legislation in the United States, has a model ambulatory surgical center bill; they call it the "Abortion Patients' Enhanced Safety Act."

The idea here is to make the bar so high that abortion providers can't possibly reach it without incredibly expensive and onerous (not to mention unnecessary) modifications to their clinics. In Texas, the requirements for ASCs run to 117 pages, according to The Dallas Morning News. And even facilities that only provide abortion pills would have to meet those surgical standards.

As it stands, according to Guttmacher, fewer than 0.3 percent of abortion patients experience a complication that requires them to be hospitalized, a fact that Bob Deuell studiously ignored throughout yesterday's hearing. And if you happen to point out that operating room square footage and backup generators do nothing to make abortion even safer, Deuell falls back on faux-outrage.

"My intent is to protect women," he said yesterday, according to the DMN. State Senator Donna Campbell, another doctor/legislator/anti-abortion zealot who's supporting the bill, chimed in that she expects "every woman to be on board." The bill moves now to the full Senate, where it's sure to be a big hit.

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Anna Merlan
Contact: Anna Merlan