What are TRAP Laws?

This graphic shows in which states TRAP laws are enacted and which type of restrictions are in place. 

TRAP laws, otherwise known as Targeted Restrictions on Abortion Providers, are used to subject abortion providers to an array of mandates not imposed on other medical providers and facilities. These laws include restricting where abortions are provided, requiring abortion providers to pay annual licensing fees, and requiring providers to comply with facility and personnel regulations that do not apply to other medical offices and clinics.[1] The levels and forms of state activity regarding abortion had varied a lot since the 1980s, but the Trump presidency has produced strategic changes in the content and importance of abortion policy and legislation.[2] As a result, restricting abortion access has taken form in not just Republican states, but some Democratic states actively defending abortion access. In Trump’s presidential years, there were two important ways in which abortion politics changed. Donald Trump nominated Justice Kavanaugh in July 2018, and Republican-controlled states started to become more willing to enact laws that conflict with the existing precedent.[3] With another Republican on the Supreme Court, many states starting creating anti-abortion bills under the precedent that Roe v. Wade could, and would be, overturned in the Republican and anti-abortion leaning Supreme Court.

Where are they being enacted?

One of these anti-abortion laws was enacted in Texas. Texas established a TRAP law which mandated abortion clinics to meet surgical center standards and mandated that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at hospitals withing thirty miles of the clinic.[4] Admitting privileges require providers to gain the right to admit patients at a local hospital to perform abortions. As a result, wait times to receive abortions, gestation prior to abortions, and driving times all increased for women needing abortions in the state. Due to TRAP laws, many clinics have closed because their doctors were unable to find a hospital that would allow them to admit patients. For example, in Texas, the number of abortion providers fell from 41 to 19 in just 3 years.[5]

A comparison of Texas abortion clinics open in 2012 versus now.

How do they affect low-income women and women of color?

These restrictive TRAP laws disproportionately affect low-income women and women of color. In 2014, 75% of abortion patients were poor (meaning their income level was below the poverty level of $15,730 for a family of two) or of low-income (meaning their income was 100-199% of the federal poverty level).[6] Black women are overrepresented among abortion patients in having the highest abortion rate of 27.1 per 1000, while white women were only 10 per 1000 between the years of 2008 and 2014.[7] Since approximately 60% of abortion clinics are independently owned, they are more vulnerable to TRAP laws, and in the past decade, 145 of 510 independent clinics have closed.[8] When a clinic closes because it is unable to meet state requirements, usually because of cost, patients — mostly low-income women and women of color — must travel greater distances, incurring additional costs that can include childcare, hotel stays, and unpaid time off from work. This can impact a patient’s ability to pay monthly bills such as groceries, rent and utilities.[9] 

Men and women gathered to protest the implementation of SB 924, a Virginia TRAP law. 

These laws also increasingly affect immigrants. In Texas, there are only three clinics located before a checkpoint (two in El Paso and one in McAllen), while there are none in Arizona.[10] Undocumented women face a dire choice: attempting to cross the checkpoint to reach the clinic and risk deportation or abandon the abortion option.[11] As a result, access to abortion has become a matter of geographical position and legal status, even though it is supposed to be a legal right for all.[12] These women must pay for transportation to the far clinics, sacrificing days of work. Also, abortion procedures are very expensive without insurance, and undocumented women are often in a precarious economic situation.


[1] Bentele, Keith Gunnar, Rebecca Sager, and Amanda Aykanian. 2018. “Rewinding Roe v. Wade: Understanding the Accelerated Adoption of State-Level Restrictive Abortion Legislation, 2008-2014,” Journal of Women, Politics, & Policy 39 (4): 490-517. doi:10.1080/1554477X.2018.1511123.

[2] Wilson, Joshua. "Striving to Rollback or Protect Roe: State Legislation and the Trump-era Politics of Abortion." Publius: The Journal of Federalism 50, no. 3 (2020): 370-97. doi:10.33774/apsa-2020-k456d.

[3] Wilson, “Trump-era Politics.”

[4] Wilson, “Trump-era Politics.”

[5] Bentele et al., “Rewinding Roe v. Wade”

[6] Crookston, Shara. "Navigating TRAP Laws, Protesters, and Police Presence at a Midwestern Abortion Clinic in the United States: A Case Study." Feminist Encounters: A Journal of Critical Studies in Culture and Politics 4, no. 2 (2020): 35. doi:10.20897/femenc/8523.

[7], [8], [9] Crookston, “Navigating TRAP Laws.”

[10] Bissonnette, Andréanne. "“Caged Women”: Migration, Mobility and Access to Health Services in Texas and Arizona." Journal of Borderlands Studies, 2020, 1-22. doi:10.1080/08865655.2020.1748515.

[11] Bissonnette, “Migration, Mobility, and Access.”

[12] Bissonnette, “Migration, Mobility, and Access.”

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