What are TRAP laws? How do they affect Virginians?

Targeted regulation of abortion providers, or TRAP, laws are burdensome, medically unnecessary regulations designed to shut down abortion providers and make it more difficult for a pregnant person to access abortion. These laws require women’s health centers that provide abortion care to meet stringent requirements that other comparable doctors’ offices do not. They are intentionally singled out for these onerous regulations.

TRAP laws limit a woman’s access to abortion either by forcing providers to close because they cannot meet the new, expensive requirements, or by driving up the cost of services so much that they become financially out of reach for many patients.

There is no legitimate medical purpose for singling out abortion providers for hospital-style regulations.  First trimester abortion is one of the safest, most commonly performed procedures in the United States with a less than 0.5% complication rate. Yet abortion providers are singled out from other doctors’ offices that perform procedures with higher complication rates for purely ideological reasons.  It is a dangerous political game that puts women’s health and rights in the cross-hairs.

Many reproductive health care centers that provide abortion also offer an array of preventive and therapeutic medical services, such as cancer screenings, birth control, STI screenings and treatment, and primary care for all Virginians. When over-regulation forces these centers to shut down, whole communities face increasingly limited access to affordable, comprehensive health care services.

Virginia has over four decades of burdensome statutory and regulatory state laws singling out abortion providers. These regulations include:

  • Va. Code Ann. § 32.1-127 (enacted 1979; last amended 2011). This regulation states that any facility providing five or more first-trimester abortion services per month must become licensed as a category of hospital subject to unique administrative, record-keeping, personnel, and patient-care requirements.
  • Va. Code Ann. § 32.1-135 (enacted 1979; last amended 2011). This regulation requires all licensed facilities be subject to periodic and unannounced inspection, to occur at least once biannually, and at any additional time. It also gives any employee of the Virginia Department of Health the right to enter the premises of any licensed abortion facility unannounced. This regulation offers minimal protections for patient privacy or confidentiality; state inspectors are granted access to a list of all current patients as well as patient records. Inspections can take multiple days to complete, disrupt patient care and generate misleading inspection reports.
  • Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-73 (enacted 1975); Va. Code Ann. § 32.1-123 (enacted 1979; last amended 1989); 12 Va. Admin. Code § 5-410-10. These laws require that all second trimester abortion services be provided in a licensed general hospital or outpatient hospital.
  • Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-72, -73, -74 (enacted 1975). This law sets the legal standard that only a physician licensed by the state to practice medicine and surgery may provide abortion care.
  • Abortions performed outside the narrow parameters allowed by Virginia law are criminalized, placing physicians in jeopardy not only of a loss of medical license, but also a significant jail sentence. Abortion is a medical procedure and does not belong in the criminal code.

As a result of state TRAP laws, 92% of Virginia counties do not have an abortion clinic, and 78% of Virginia women live in counties without an abortion clinic.