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War on Women: Anti-Choice Movement Resorting to Shameless Tricks to Shutter Abortion Clinics

Despite lawsuits and activism, women's health clinics are shutting their doors, thanks to "regulations" coming, in one case, from secret origins.
 
 
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In Arizona, three clinics have stopped providing abortions thanks to a new law that makes it illegal for nurse practitioners to perform medical abortions.

In Kansas, a family planning clinic is scheduled to close thanks to government pulling funding, while the courts continue to battle out a set of new restrictions that just happen to make it impossible for several abortion clinics in the state to operate at all.

And in Virginia, Gov. Bob McDonnell has taken a page from Kansas' book and is issuing some of the most drastic abortion restrictions seen since Roe, targeting clinics that provide first-trimester abortions with regulations that will effectively force them to shut their doors. 

These "bogus safety restrictions" are the newest front in the war on women. At the same time, older battles from this year are resulting in clear-as-day effects already: invasive sonogram laws in Texas, parental consent laws in Nevada, and the constant pulling of funding from family planning.

These policies are already having negative consequences for women, sometimes drastic ones. While lawsuits, activism and brave legislators have been pushing against the tide, a number of volleys in the "war on women" have hit their targets, and some women are already showing up at the doors of health care providers only to find that services they need are unavailable.

Partly this is because of the multi-pronged approach anti-choicers have taken. Beyond passing restrictions like the ones mentioned above, there's an increasingly common tactic, perhaps the most direct assault on abortion rights of all: the introduction of a new set of TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws in places like Kansas and now Virginia establishing physical and medical requirements so stringent that clinics can hardly operate.

Kate Sheppard reported on the new Virginia regulations this week, under the headline "Are Virginia's New Abortion Rules the Worst Yet?":

The regulations require Virginia's 22 clinics to meet strict new physical standards; pre-op rooms, for example, must measure at least 80 square feet, and operating rooms must measure 250 square feet. Hallways must be at least five feet wide. The requirements are based on the state's 2010 guidelines for new outpatient surgical facilities. 

Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, told Mother Jones on Monday that the new rules may actually be the most strict regulations in the United States. "It would be challenging for the majority of our facilities to continue offering first-trimester care," Keene said. "These are designed to really cease first-trimester abortion services in the Commonwealth of Virginia."

What's even more disturbing about these rules is that they're being manipulated in deliberate ways. First of all, the guidelines that form the basis for the regulations were meant for new health clinics, not preexisting ones. Virginia's Coalition for Women's Health is desperately urging that these rules not be applied retroactively to abortion clinics. Secondly, the state legislature has already decreed that these outpatient abortion clinics are now in the same category as hospitals; a move meant to make them more vulnerable to such regulations.

In Kansas, the regulations that essentially formed the blueprint for Virginia emerged from secretive legislative sessions. These rules were similarly designed so they would, ostensibly under safety regulations, actually prevent clinics from operating. While a judge has blocked the "temporary" rules, "permanent" ones are being crafted. Governor Sam Brownback McConnell 

The Kansas City Star reported that the state has refused legal and press requests to shed light on how these rules came to be and, and whether there was input from the anti-choice community.

From the Kansas City Star:

Lawyers for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the attorney general want to prevent two abortion clinics from learning how the rules were crafted, as well as the mind-set behind them, according to their court filings.
They are asking a judge to limit the scope of what is shared with the clinics’ lawyers to prevent overly broad requests that don’t lead to relevant evidence, the court documents say.

The state also has denied open-records requests from The Kansas City Star and The Associated Press, which asked for documents that could have shed light on the drafting of the rules.

A federal judge has blocked these rules, so no clinics have yet had to close (although some are closing due to funding cuts).

But Arizona has made "regulating" the closure of clinics even simpler than this--by simply prohibiting medical abortions (abortions that involve taking the abortion pill combination) provided by nurse practitioners. As a result,three clinics immediately had to close. 

Another law that's meant to make abortions safer but is in reality prohibitive, comes courtesy of Rick Perry. In Texas, an "emergency law" that requires sonograms before abortion puts an almost prohibitively onerous burden on women and doctors. Eliza Gray's article in the New Republic tackles the Texas policy. Gray describes not only the traveling and multiple appointments that women are forced to undergo, but the horrible way the sonogram procedure is mandated:

The doctor is forced to make an audible heartbeat available to the woman and provide a detailed verbal description of the fetus pictured in a sonogram. Theoretically, women are required to listen to the speech but can decline to hear the heartbeat and see the sonogram image.

... The law stipulates that the doctor is required to present the image and heartbeat to her, which basically means that she would have to cover her eyes and plug her ears in order to shield herself from the material. ..Despite the ambiguity, the consequences are strict: Doctors who don’t comply with the law face the prospect of losing their license to practice medicine.

To make matters worse, sonograms in the first trimester, when nearly 90 percent of abortions are performed, are usually done with a probe inserted into the vagina, an uncomfortable procedure that is not medically safe for the fetus in the early weeks, and which is usually not made available to a pregnant mother until the second trimester.

 
All this, from Arizona to Texas is done in the name of safety, but the Texas example shows that safety, in fact, has little do do with it--that it's bordering on harassment.
 
The good news is that a lawsuit in Kansas has had some success so far in blocking these "temporary" regulations, and as of Tuesday night, another court ruled that Texas's sonogram law violates the First Amendment. But the powers that be in these states have doubled down on their efforts, and the ability of clinics to operate is by no means assured. Around the country, abortion clinics are under attack, being regulated to death, and leaving women in a country with legal abortion less and less of a choice.

 Here Rachel Maddow breaks down the Virginia regulations:

 

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Sarah Seltzer is an associate editor at AlterNet, a staff writer at RH Reality Check and a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has been published in Jezebel.com and on the websites of the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor and the Wall Street Journal. Find her at sarahmseltzer.com.