Despite Abortion Bans, TRAP Law Is the Real Threat to Abortion Access in North Dakota (UPDATED)

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Despite Abortion Bans, TRAP Law Is the Real Threat to Abortion Access in North Dakota (UPDATED)

Robin Marty

If the state's one abortion clinic can't continue to operate, it doesn't matter if abortion is banned at 20 weeks, at six weeks, or at the moment of conception. The TRAP law will mean the end of abortion access in North Dakota.

Update, 12:55 pm Eastern: Gov. Dalrymple has reportedly signed the TRAP bill, along with the other anti-choice bills that made it to his desk. More information coming soon.

Update, 5:30 pm Eastern: Here’s Robin Marty’s report on the newly signed laws.

“Personhood,” heartbeat bans, forcing women to give birth to babies diagnosed with genetic anomalies that make them unlikely to survive long after birth, if they make it that long: These bills have triggered much outrage among pro-choice advocates and have resulted in flashy headlines, successful fundraising pleas, and trips to court.

What many people don’t realize, however, is that not one of those bills is likely to end abortion in North Dakota. But SB 2305, the state’s targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) bill, will—and few people are paying attention to it.

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“We definitely see the TRAP bill as the one that will end abortion in the state,” Tammi Kromenaker, the director of Red River Women’s Clinic (RRWC), told Rewire. RRWC is the only abortion clinic in North Dakota. “The other bills aren’t really a threat right now, but this one could close us.”

The state’s heartbeat ban and its move to put an amendment on the 2014 ballot to grant legal rights to fertilized eggs have both been focal points for media outlets, many of which are fascinated to see which state can pass the most restrictive abortion ban first. But neither bill is likely to have much of a real impact on the women seeking to terminate a pregnancy in the state. So-called personhood wouldn’t go into effect for at least another year, and even then only with the support of over half the voters in the state, something that has failed to happen in any state in which the measure has been proposed. (In Colorado, it’s been defeated repeatedly.) A ban on abortion at the point when an embryonic heartbeat can be detected is so blatantly unconstitutional that even lawyers who oppose abortion have stated openly that it will be immediately blocked and will never actually stop an abortion from occurring.

Even a ban on abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization and a ban on abortions allegedly obtained due to a gender preference or fetal anomaly don’t concern Kromenaker. She says she has never heard of anyone claiming that they were aborting due to a fetus’ gender and that her clinic does not perform abortions that late in a pregnancy anyway. “Those [bills] aren’t an issue for us,” she said.

These bills have drawn attention away from the true threat to RRWC: Under the new TRAP bill, abortion providers would be forced to obtain hospital admitting privileges. But at least one of the two local hospitals won’t offer those privileges to the clinic—because the quality of care at RRWC is so high that the clinic doesn’t need them.

Lawmakers proposed the bill under the guise of “women’s safety,” but Kromenaker points out that her clinic’s safety record is actually better than the average clinic safety records, showing that the “need” for the bill was completely fabricated. “This bill is intended to impose an impossible to meet requirement,” she said. “There is no other goal but to shut us down.”

The bill requires privileges from a hospital within a 30-mile radius from the clinic, a move that limits the choices to just two hospitals in the state. But a doctor must admit ten patients per year to get hospital admitting privileges from Sanford Hospital, the most logical hospital for RRWC to transfer to since it’s just five blocks away. But with the hospital’s ten-admitted-patients-per-year rule, the hospital is off the table as an option for the clinic.

“I’ve had one time that I’ve had to admit a patient in the last ten years,” Kromenaker explained. “We are very selective about the physicians we hire for our clinic, because we know we are a target. As the only clinic in the state, of course we have worked to ensure that we have the highest quality doctors. I would never employ a doctor who had to admit ten patients a year. That would mean they were a terrible doctor.”

There’s one other hospital that’s a transfer possibility for the clinic—Essentia Health—but it is roughly five miles away, rather than five blocks. Should there be a true emergency, the clinic would have to transfer patients further away, which is more dangerous than if the law was never proposed in the first place.

Unlike heartbeat bans and personhood bills, the TRAP bill is difficult to rally against from an activist standpoint, because it has been promoted as a benefit to women in the state, rather than the hindrance it really is. Lawmakers, including the governor, can continue to claim that they’re trying to protect women, when they’re effectively closing the one safe place in the state where a woman can obtain abortion care. As Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple considers whether to sign or veto the bill, the question is whether he too will hide behind the rhetoric of “women’s safety,” or if he’ll come face-to-face with the fact that signing the bill could end safe abortions in the state and force women to either travel outside its borders to terminate a pregnancy or, worse, take matters into their own hands.

“Stop the mandate on hospital admitting privileges!” doesn’t make for evocative fundraising emails or headlines. However, SB 2305 is the true threat to ending abortions in North Dakota. Without a provider, there is no more abortion care in the state. If RRWC can’t continue to operate, it doesn’t matter if abortion is banned at 20 weeks, at six weeks, or at the moment of conception. If SB 2305 goes into effect, it will mean the end of abortion access in North Dakota.

Pro-choice advocates in the state think there’s a good chance Gov. Dalrymple will sign the bill into law this week. Sign this petition telling him the bill doesn’t protect women’s safety, but endangers it, and he should veto.