No Access. No Choice. Trapped

New TRAP laws force Virginia abortion clinic to close after 40 years of service


Feminist Majority Foundation intern Colleen Osborne at the Virginia Board of Health protesting TRAP laws. Pic via Feminist Majority Foundation.

Earlier this month, the Virginia Board of Health voted 11 to 2 for new, irrational regulations on abortion clinics in the state, which many reproductive health and justice advocates correctly noted were intended not to make clinics safer for patients but to effectively erode access to abortion care in the state.

This weekend, the effects of such laws were felt loud and clear, as Hillcrest Clinic, the first South Hampton Roads medical facility ever to provide legal abortions, decided to close its doors for good after 40 years in business, noting that it would cost nearly $500,000 to meet the requirements set by the new law, including changing ventilation and temperature controls.

Since it opened in 1973 on 1600 E. Little Creek Rd, Hillcrest Clinic has been serving the people of Tidewater, Virginia with safe and legal healthcare including abortion services. The clinic employed 15 people. As all American abortion clinics are, it had been host to a number of violent attacks (pipe bombs, arson) as well as persistent, intrusive picketing and protests from anti-choice radicals.

The clinic website confirmed the news, posting a message that reads, in part, “After 40 years of providing quality reproductive health care, Hillcrest Clinic is closing effective April 20, 2013. We have been honored to serve the women of Tidewater with safe, legal healthcare for four decades.”

This is not the first time that such deceitful laws, known as TRAP laws, have been used to target abortion clinics with the intention of shutting them down. While their language is designed as aiming to protect the health of patients, they very blatantly put patient’s health at risk by singling out abortion clinics and holding them to unreachable standards. We’ve most recently covered the same process in Mississippi. Mother Jones explains how it works:

“Anti-abortion legislators pass what are often called “TRAP” laws, or “targeted regulation of abortion providers.” That is, regulations that only apply to abortion clinics, setting compulsory standards that are often difficult to meet, like mandated sizes for waiting and recovery rooms, reconfiguring of exits and entrances to facilities, and additional bathrooms.”

Anti-choice supporters of such laws often co-opt language of safety and health to argue that the regulations are to protect patients. But clinic staff and women’s rights advocates know that the regulations are designed to force abortion clinics to close as part of their radical right-wing agenda. This is how it worked in Mississippi, where even as legislators stated publicly that the bill was meant to merely “protect” the health of women, the Governor said he wanted Mississippi to be ‘‘abortion-free” as he signed the bill into law, and a State Rep. acknowledged while bragging about the law that women may turn to coathanger abortions as a result.

Of course, Life News, a manipulative and rabidly anti-choice website with close ties to anti-choice legislators and protesters, touted the closing as a win.

“Prayers are always answered,” said a longtime Hillcrest protester. “And the prayers are answered in God’s time, not ours.”

These are the kinds of “pro-life” people who rejoice at the CLOSING of healthcare facilities. These are the kinds of “pro-life” policies that force desperate people and especially those at the margins to endure lower standards of care, and prop up shoddy, illegal, dangerous operations like those of Dr. Kermitt Gosnell.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is at the center of much of this policy and is rumored to be running for Governor in the state. We’ll be following that election closely. If you’re a Virginia state resident, you know what to do with your ballot.

As frustrating and infuriating as this is, there’s another silver lining to the story. The clinic staff deserve huge kudos for having kept the clinic up and running and serving the community for so long. While the TRAP laws are undoubtedly a big part of this story and the main reason for the clinic’s closing, it’s also promising that in recent years, the demand for abortion services was declining, showing that abortion providers, counselors and medical staff at the clinic were doing great work and providing people with the kind of healthcare that allowed them to avoid unwanted pregnancy and exercise reproductive choice.

The other piece of good news? So far, Hillcrest is the only clinic to indicate that it won’t be seeking renewal. The other three clinics in South Hampton Roads said they anticipate meeting the new requirements. Take that, TRAP.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is a writer and advocate focusing on race, gender, and sexual and reproductive rights. In addition to serving as an Executive Director at Feministing, Lori is the Director of Global Communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Lori has previously worked at the United Nations Foundation, the International Women’s Health Coalition, and Human Rights Watch, and has written for a host of print and digital properties including Rookie Magazine, The Grio, and the New York Times Magazine. She regularly appears on radio and television, and has spoken at college campuses across the U.S. about topics like the politics of black hair, transnational movement building, and the undercover feminism of Nicki Minaj. In 2014, she was named to The Root 100 list of the nation's most influential African Americans, and to the Forbes Magazine list of the "30 Under 30" successful people in media.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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