835. That is the number of anti-choice measures enacted in states between 1995 and 2014 according to NARAL Pro-Choice America’s 2014 report, “Who Decides?.” Last year alone, state legislators enacted 27 anti-choice measures across the nation. The trend is alarming and doesn’t look to be slowing down.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: A guide to legislation recently introduced or enacted state legislation appears on the NOW website. It should be made clear that funding and coordination of the national campaign to outlaw abortion entirely and to limit access to contraceptives comes primarily from the Catholic hierarchy, supplemented by right-wing deep-pocketed donors connected with conservative political and fundamentalist protestant groups. Tens of millions of dollars are raised every year, mostly by Catholic men’s organizations, and distributed to so-called pro-life groups around the country and to support anti-abortion rights politicians. Yet, only 14 percent of Catholics, according to a recent survey of 1,000 Catholics, agree with the Vatican’s position that abortion should be illegal.* Catholic laity attitudes on abortion, in many instances, closely match that of the general U.S. public, yet the bishops are obsessed with banning abortion and limiting use of contraceptives. Without these funds and the determination of the bishops and the anti-choice politicians they elect, this campaign against women’s reproductive health would be making very little progress.]
What We’ve Seen Already: We are barely three months into the new year and state legislators have made it clear that restricting women’s healthcare and legislating women’s bodies are their first priority. Missouri is in the lead so far, with upwards of 10 bills introduced since January aimed at severing all ties a woman has to her legally assured health care. This plethora of bills in Missouri targets the only abortion clinic left in Missouri. You read that right: there is only one clinic left in Missouri and a combination of proposals to defund the clinic and annual inspections of the clinic will surely speed up the process of making sure no woman in Missouri has access to the medical care deemed a right by the Supreme Court. Reproductive rights opponents there are also promoting state laws to make it as difficult as possible for a Missouri woman to leave the state to access abortion services.
Missouri women are not alone. Dozens of other states have proposed limitations on abortion services. The most alarming type of legislation popping up across the country, from Washington to Virginia, is the so-called “personhood legislation” that would make abortion illegal by claiming life begins at conception.
Reason for Optimism: Positive action is occurring at the state level, despite Republicans’ strong focus on anti-choice legislation. A committee in the Colorado House voted to advance a bill that would aggregate $5 million to go towards an already-existing program that improves contraceptive access for low-income women. In Minnesota, a bill has been introduced to require a majority of employers to include all FDA-approved contraceptives in health insurance plans, with no additional cost for the employees. And the New Hampshire House killed a bill that would’ve defunded health and family planning centers in the state. Progress is not obsolete.
Anti-Abortion Rights Proposals: But Republicans in state legislatures are using every trick in the book to prevent women from accessing safe and legal medical services. Many states, including Pennsylvania, are proposing bills to allow health-care professionals to refuse women prescriptions to contraceptives if such an act “violates their conscience.” Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider (TRAP) laws are all the rage among Republican state representatives, which would force health centers that provide abortion services to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical treatment centers. At the very least, lawmakers are pushing for requirements that the physician performing an abortion must have admitting privileges at a hospital.
“Fetal Heartbeat” legislation has popped up in Ohio and Kansas and intends to outlaw abortion once a heartbeat can be detected. It is possible to detect a heartbeat as early as six weeks into the pregnancy, often before many women even know they are pregnant. In six states, 20-week abortion bans are being considered on the basis that the fetus can feel pain, a claim that is not supported by scientific evidence.
New types of bills are making an appearance this year: bills that would ban abortion in a situation where the physician believes a woman is seeking to terminate her pregnancy due to a fetal disability or the sex of the fetus. This restriction upholds racist stereotypes and gives far too much power to physicians to decide the fate of the woman and her pregnancy. It places unfair conditions on a woman seeking an abortion by claiming they should only be receiving an abortion if their motives are in line with the “morals” of state politicians.
Many of these bills – fetal personhood, pre-viability bans, physician discretion to deny abortion if she/he believes the pregnancy is being terminated because of fetal abnormality or sex of the fetus – are unconstitutional. Most likely, they could not overcome the privacy and undue-burden protections under Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood.
Keep Up the Fight: Not all hope is lost! A few states have introduced bills seeking to expand access to health care and protect women from unnecessary and harmful legislation. State legislators in Virginia have proposed to repeal the forced ultrasound requirement that currently stands. In Arizona, a new bill is on the table to remove the 24-hour waiting period for medication abortion. The Texas state legislature has proposed the elimination of the 24-hour waiting period that is current law in the state.
Access to safe and legal abortion is a monumental necessity for every woman, guaranteed to them by law. The laws that chip away at women’s health care undermine the fight for gender equality and NOW is committed to ending these harmful restrictions. To see if your state has proposed any anti-choice measures, check out RH Reality Check’s incredible state-by-state interactive tool. Tell your state representative that you support access to safe and legal abortion services and politicians should stop acting like gynecologists.
*For more information check, Catholics for Choice’s publication, Knights of Columbus: Crusaders for Discrimination, and other sources, plus The Facts Tell The Story – Catholics and Choice, 2014-2015 at www.catholicsforchoice.org