Restrictions on Choice in States

Yesterday the Center for Reproductive Rights released a report that gave a deeply depressing rundown of all the ways states have worked to restrict reproductive rights this year. Reading the whole report is worthwhile, but here are the highlights.

There are some major trends in states this last year:

  • Ultrasound requirements or restricting doctors to read state-mandated language: It seems requiring ultrasounds before women can obtain an abortion are the hot new thing in the states, even though requiring an ultrasound seems to have no effect on a woman’s decision have an abortion.
  • State Stupaks–a.k.a. exchange bans: The Affordable Care Act, which was passed by Congress earlier this year contained a compromise on abortion coverage known as the Nelson Amendment. That amendment allows states to enact their own bans on abortion coverage in private insurance plans sold through state-based exchanges. As of the writing of the CRR report, five states–Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee–have enacted bans and two other states, Florida and Oklahoma, have passed bans that were vetoed by the governor.
  • Personhood and parental notification ballot initiatives: I already wrote about Alaska’s parental notification ballot initiative that was passed by voters last week, but Colorado and Mississippi are both going to be voting on initiatives that would define life as beginning at conception. Colorado will have this initiative on the ballot this fall–possibly aiding in turnout for Republican candidates–and Mississippi will vote on it in 2011. Defining life as beginning at contraception is problematic. The proposed initiative is designed to be a direct challenge to Roe vs. Wade thus defining abortion as murder and miscarriages as involuntary manslaughter. It would also likely outlaw most forms of contraception. Also because changing the definition of “person” would literally affect thousands of laws.

The CRR also has a rundown of what happened in several states this year:

Arizona: Enacted a ban forbidding any public funds from being used to pay for abortions except in cases of rape or incest. This includes all public employees in the state and additionally enacts an exchange ban.

Idaho: Passed a conscience clause for health care providers and pharmacists, allowing them to refuse to provide abortion care, birth control, or emergency contraception.

Louisiana: Passed a law forcing closure of any clinics that are in violation of TRAP laws previously passed by the state. Passed a law excluding physicians that provide abortions from a state fund to defray malpractice costs. Passed an exchange ban. Passed a law requiring a woman seeking an abortion the option to view an ultrasound, hear a description of the image, and receive a printout of the ultrasound.

Mississippi: Passed an exchange ban except in cases of threat to the woman’s life, rape, or incest.

Missouri: Passed a law requiring a woman take a trips to an abortion provider at least 24 hours before she receives her abortion, known as a “two trip” law. At that first visit, she’s required to receive a packet of information that must contain the following sentences: “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”

Nebraska: Passed a law banning abortion at and after 24 weeks with exceptions for the woman’s life or irreversible physical impairment. Passed a law requiring doctors to notify a patient of any possible risk from abortion, fining doctors $10,000 if he or she misses telling a patient of just one risk.

Oklahoma: Passed an ultrasound requirement before a woman may obtain an abortion. Passed a law requiring abortion providers to collect detailed demographic information and publish it online. Passed a law protecting doctors who lie about fetal abnormalities or other information that might factor into a woman’s decision of whether or not to have an abortion. Passed a health care provider refusal law, allowing providers to refuse to perform abortion and other services to patients. Requires doctors to be in the room when a woman swallows a medicated abortion pill. Passed a ban on sex-selective abortion.

South Carolina: Required providers to distribute biased information about abortions to patients before she obtains one.

Tennessee: Requires abortion providers to post large signs that say it is unlawful to coerce a woman into having an abortion. Passed an exchange ban, no exceptions.

Utah: Passed a law making it a crime for a woman to cause her own miscarriage, meaning each miscarriage has the potential for criminal investigation. Passed a law requiring an ultrasound before an abortion.

Virginia: Banned public funds from being used for abortion, including for public employees.

What’s notable about these laws is that most of the action on reproductive rights is on restricting access rather than expanding it. So much is happening on the reproductive rights front at the state level, but it is getting very, very little media attention. Often, reproductive rights activists don’t hear about the legislation until right before or right after the laws are passed. It’s an issue I found so important that I planned a panel about it at the Campus Progress National Conference this summer, featuring Jordan Goldberg, the author of the CRR report. (You can view a video of the panel here.)

Groups like the Center for Reproductive Rights do their best to stay up to date on state laws, but they can’t do it alone. If Colorado passes its personhood definition, for instance, we could eventually be looking at a Supreme Court challenge in a court that’s been unfriendly to reproductive rights. The important thing to remember is that much of the battle over abortion access is happening at the state level.


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21 Responses to Restrictions on Choice in States

  1. Paraxeni says:

    The hypocrisy is staggering. A country that uses “Look how badly they treat their women!” as a rallying cry for war, is denying the bodily autonomy of living, breathing women over the ‘personhood’ of blastocysts, embryos and foetuses.

    It seems that even when U.S. women can access abortion they are made sitting targets by having to go to special clinics, rather than to the relative safety and anonymity of their local hospital.

    My greatest wish for my sisters (and vag-owning brothers) over the Pond would be easy access to comprehensive sexual and anatomical education, and access to the contraception of their choice, unhindered by lies, judgement, falsehoods and scare stories. I want them to have access to emergency contraception, and safe, legal access to abortion. Also for the FDA to judge drugs/devices solely by their physical or chemical nature, not by some rich, white man’s sense of the ‘morality’ of reproductive choice.

    As a citizen of another country I cannot do anything to physically help anyone, but I’ll continue to debunk myths and outright lies told to your country’s citizens in an attempt to control them, and my moral support is unwavering.

  2. What I find so sad is that the people affected by this are primarily low-income women of color, who give birth to children that, if you’d believe the rhetoric of those who pass this legislation, are responsible for violent crimes, immorality, and drain the welfare system dry.

  3. Natasha says:

    For the 1,000th time, I can’t believe I live in a country where corporate personhood is established law, but female personhood isn’t.

  4. MertvayaRuka says:

    And this is precisely the kind of thing that’s been aggravating the shit out of me while arguing with right-wing traditionalist pagans (yes they do exist) about the Park 51 community center thing. They’re trying to tell me that “Christianity has been defanged” and now the real threat is Muslim Americans. Because apparently all this work against abortion rights and all the work against same-sex marriage is all fundamentalist Islam’s doing. I’m supposed to listen to these dumb motherfuckers about the looming danger of sharia law while the christian right continues to make policy all over the country. *headdesk*

  5. Shelley says:

    As a Tennessean and a Planned Parenthood volunteer, what really bothers me is that organized opposition to these resolutions is kept quiet in hopes of working out a deal through lobbyists behind the scenes. If people want to protest, PROTEST. Let the (white heterosexual male) legislators know that opposition to their pro life agenda exists. Ugh. AND, Senate Joint Resolution 127 passed the TN General Assembly this year, making it one step closer to making nearly impossible access to abortion an amendment to our state constitution — a bill introduced by a WOMAN, a NURSE. Good ole Diane Black is running for our 6th District Congressional seat this year as well, and I can only imagine what she’ll try to do in Congress. This deeply saddens me.

  6. PrettyAmiable says:

    Paraxeni: My greatest wish for my sisters (and vag-owning brothers)

    Love this.

    Also, I’m currently in MO and thus esp. irritated by this. My law school friends say this law is unconstitutional. Any comments from the lawyers here, and if so, what I can do as a registered voter? This is his gchatted comment: “yeah i think it violates the extent that states can be involved in that process, even if it is ‘subtle’ words and not overt actions” for context.

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  8. That’s some pretty grim news.

  9. William says:

    I find it surprising that so many on the left still haven’t worked out the strategy. Forced birth advocates watched the gun rights movement and are aping their tactics. You don’t try to legislate at the national level because its difficult, expensive, the power is more limited, and there is more attention. Instead you targets the states and slowly build a consensus. You start in states with legislatures sympathetic to your cause, you move quietly, and you use successful legislation in those early states as part of your argument for the next round of states later on. By the time you make a move on the national level your opponent appears to be in the minority, behind the curve. Granted, the pro-choice movement has a lot more to work with constitutionally than the gun control movement did, but that might not matter much if the forced birthers are able to get personhood laws in a majority of states.

  10. Astrid says:

    I am so glad I live in the Netherlands. Abortion is restricted to the first 21 weeks of pregnancy here because of viability (which is ironic, since babibes born before 25 weeks will be left to die anyway), but anyone can obtain an abortion free of charge. The only bill in this list that I agree with, is the 24-week limit in Nebraska, although I would say since 24-weekers are viable, aborted 24-weekers can just be treated at the NICU rather than forcing a woman to carry to term.

  11. Drakyn says:

    Not USA, but an Australian state Attorney-General has just appealed a ruling because he wants trans people to be sterilized before we can be legally recognized as our actual gender/sex.
    ~Yay eugenics!~

    This is just after the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Thomas Hammarberg, has come out as against forcing trans people to divorce their spouse or be sterilized to change their legal markers.

    A book came out this year about women who had children despite being told they shouldn’t/couldn’t.

    Parents of kids (and guardians of adults) with autism are using a drug that is sometimes used to chemically castrate sex offenders to “treat” autism.

    (btw, reproductive rights: way more than just abortion access)

  12. Paraxeni says:

    @ PA – thanks. I’ve known more than one guy be told “Oh yeah, T makes you sterile” and go on to have to self-abort because a) they couldn’t access abortion services in their state and b) couldn’t face the financial and emotional cost of travelling elsewhere, as a man, only to have to negotiate a termination.

    @drakyn – yep, it is about more than abortion access, it’s about the denial/restriction of contraception, it’s about sex mis-education, about partner-coercion, but those things help lead to the need for safe and accessible termination.

    As for the issue of forced sterilisation in trans communities I agree that it is abhorrent. It’s bad enough forcing surgery on people so that they’re allowed to legally present as their actual gender, but adding procedures on top of that is shameful.

    I’ve read a bit of Defiant Birth – but the bits about parenting disabled children grated a bit. I can’t read my print copy any more, I wish I had access to an electronic version so I could look them up. Over all it was good, but the all too-common trope of “What about the carers?” appeared a smidge too often for me.

  13. Paraxeni says:

    @Astrid – from my research into statistics available in my country (Great Britain) almost all of the terminations carried out past 20 weeks are due to foetal anomalies that are incompatible with life, so there’d be no ‘saving’ of the baby that was ‘cooked’ until 24+ weeks anyway. They’ve deliberately eased restrictions that increase waiting times, so that as many abortions as possible can be carried out before the 9 week mark. Thankfully it’s very rare that a citizen could get to 24 weeks gestational age by accident. A lot of the later abortions (20+ weeks) are carried out on EU citizens who cannot legally get the procedure in their own jurisdiction.

    Roughly 90% of all abortions in the UK occur under 13 weeks, and 1% are between 20-23+6 weeks, and any necessary after 24 weeks (0.1% of the total number of abortions, a figure that has remained steady since pre-1995) can only be carried out in an NHS hospital, so the stats regarding late terminations are virtually error-free.

    So if the data for 2006 alone is looked at, 136 terminations occurred in NHS hospitals, and all of those were due to congenital or chromosomal abnormalities. Congenital malformations accounted for 95 of the 136, with the most common reason overall (congenital and chromosomal) being brain malformation.

  14. Paraxeni says:

    Bugger. The beginning of my last paragraph should read “So if the data for 2006 alone is looked at, 136 terminations occurred in NHS hospitals at 24wks+, and all of those were due to congenital or chromosomal abnormalities. “

    I ctrl+z’ed when I should’ve ctrl+y’ed!

  15. Wednesday says:

    Passed a law requiring a woman take a trips to an abortion provider at least 24 hours before she receives her abortion, known as a “two trip” law. At that first visit, she’s required to receive a packet of information that must contain the following sentences: “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”

    Similar guidelines exist where I live. (i.e. two-trip regulation with 48h time lapse, as well as pre- and post-abortion counselling and ‘educational materials’)

    But The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.? That’s not even science.

    *angry*

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  18. William says:

    Wednesday:
    That’s not even science.*angry*  

    Since when have religious restrictions on moral behavior been bound by science. Their 5000 year old mountain god says its so, how can science compete?

  19. A. says:

    Wednesday: But The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.? That’s not even science.

    *angry* Wednesday

    and Christian bias. Not all religions claim this.

  20. joel hanes says:

    … the idea of ‘ensoulment’ at conception is actually a radically new change in Christianity that dates back only to 1869. For the first 1800 years or so of Christianity, the fetus was NOT considered human and was not ‘ensouled’ with a human soul until ‘quickening,’ some time in the second trimester. Abortion before that point was NOT considered murder or a mortal sin by the Church. Though, to be sure, a number of Christian scholars argued for instant ensoulment, the Church rejected their theological arguments and stuck to the dogma of delayed ensoulment.

    In 1869, Pope Pius IX was trying to gather support within the church hierarchy for the adoption of the principle of ‘Papal Infallability.’ He approached the French leader, Bonaparte III, an Bonaparte demanded a political trade. Worried about a century-long decline in the French population. Bonaparte agreed to back Papal Infallibility, but only if Pope Pius IX would ban all abortions, even those before quickening when the fetus changed from fetus inanimatus to fetus animatus and received a human soul.

    Pius IX accepted the political quid-pro-quo and, in exchange for Bonaparte’s political support, he issued a new Papal Bull declaring that conception was the point at which the pre-embryo became ensouled.

    It wasn’t until 1917 that that Church Canon was finally changed to remove the distinction between the fetus inanimatus and the fetus animatus.

  21. Adrian says:

    I am deeply troubled by the laws requiring pregnant women to get ultrasounds before having abortions. The linked article at The Curvature says ultrasounds have no effect on abortion rates, but I don’t believe it. They are just talking about women who can afford (time+money, with assistance in some cases) the abortion and the ultrasound, and saying that none of them changed their minds after viewing the ultrasound.

    Increasing the cost of abortion, or adding more administrative delays to the procedure always reduce abortion rates. The way health insurance reform makes it difficult for women of low and moderate income to have this aspect of their health care covered by insurance is likely to make it worse. Health insurance companies aren’t even restricting contraception and abortion coverage because they want to save money. Just giving birth in a hospital costs about 20 times more than an abortion. (More for a C-section, of course.) Surgical abortion in the first trimester is even safer for women than giving birth–less risk of health complications, as well as less risk of dying.

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